yifan’s dreams are almost always monochrome, grays on whites on blacks. rocks, the sea, the sky, the sun. but sometimes, there is a distant figure that seems to be silhouetted in something that looks like red.
the sky stretches on for ever, clouds floating languorously across its back. it's almost dawn, and everything is gray.
everything is always gray, in this world. yifan's world. yifan's sleeping world.
he sits on the edge of the moon, legs dangling, waiting. the stars twinkle and fade.
far below him, the city yawns into life. skyscrapers unfold into lights, alleys crawl with bicyclists and early morning joggers. their faces are empty of features, like blank paper. the first police car of the day shrieks out of a parking lot, swerving into action. and still, everything is gray.
yifan's line of sight descends and sharpens. he sees an apartment building -- his own. he lives on the fifteenth floor, with a view that was once incredible but has worn on him since moving in. yifan sees himself inside the room, sleeping. light filters in from the sun, and yifan feels the heat on his back from his seat on the moon, and he feels the heat on his face from his place on the bed, where he's facing the window.
he's staring at himself.
the next moment his stomach lurches, and he is being pulled back from the outside of his window and towards the streets below. yifan is falling, but he is weightless, and nothing can hurt him. his world is safe. his world is very safe and colorless (colorless, on most days). everything is in varying tones of black and white, and if yifan used to sense a quiet fear at facing this world, way back when, he has quelled it now.
his feet touch the ground. the grass is sharp and prickly and very real, underneath his bare feet. and there is something else, equally as sharp; a flash of red, spilling into his vision. it's not a person, but something on a person. it had looked thin, like a bracelet, but if anybody had been here a second ago, they aren't anymore.
this isn't most days, then. this is a day where there is a burst of color that leaves yifan on his knees and gasping in confusion, consoling monochrome world in a blur of vertigo until everything goes out, sputtering, like a flashlight struggling on expired cells.
the ground shrinks from his feet as a sweeping blast of hot wind sucks him upwards, until his spine is stuck against the cold, marble arch of the moon. all he can do is watch as everything tumbles down, quaking and jerky, like freakish stop-motion.
the dream is still weighing heavily on his mind at midday, amidst crumpled sheets of paper, wrinkled bedspreads and a strong stench of sweaty socks. the laptop screen shines placidly at him, the only source of light in the whole room. the heavy red curtains sehun has stolen from his parents are drawn, sashes knotted impossibly together. yifan taps a single key repeatedly. there's something about the colors in his dreams. there's a reason they turned black and white, he knows it. and there's a reason someone brushes color into them every now and then. he'd realized it a long time ago, and then pushed it far away, forgotten.
his phone beeps from some hidden corner of the room, and yifan gets up with a sigh and not a little difficulty -- he really needs to change his mattress. it's like quicksand these days, no support at all. (or it could just be the mountains of clothes everywhere.) he stands in the middle of the room, and the phone beeps again. somewhere near the closet, he hazards, and makes toward it when there's another beep, and he realizes it's probably in the closet.
he yanks the door open, and his lock screen glows up at him: the milk moustache on a very familiar pair of lips. sehun's, of course. yifan's mouth presses into a thin line as he puts in his passcode and taps for his messages; they're from baekhyun.
12.27 p.m. you there
12.28 p.m. loser!!
12.29 p.m. word count
baekhyun sends another message.
12.30 p.m. you're reading my messages, now answer them
he shoves it back in the closet, doesn't bother closing the doors, and traipses back to bed. what's his deadline again? he'd need to log in to his email for that, and yifan hates emails. too much spam. sehun's made a gmail account for him and it's been waiting patiently for him this past month, but he'd rather not deal with anything new. he needs to write something.
the blank laptop screen smiles, and yifan thinks about the city beneath him, melting into mounds of quicksilver.
he needs to write anything.
baekhyun uses the spare key he'd been bestowed with when yifan had moved in, and is over for breakfast the next day at eight o' clock sharp. yifan is apprehensive at first, but since baekhyun doesn't bring up anything about contracts, deadlines or word counts, he relaxes after a few minutes.
"i had a dream," yifan mumbles through his cereal, before deciding not say anything else. his friend sits opposite him in quiet bewilderment.
"coincidentally," baekhyun replies, after a minute of silence, "so did martin luther king."
yifan makes a face. "i'm no revolutionary." the cereal's probably expired three days ago: it tastes staler than usual. milk dribbles out of the corner of his mouth; baekhyun eyes it with distaste. "i know. you're an idealist with zero motivation and a deadline in four weeks."
yifan judges things too soon. sehun has told him this countless times, over video game marathons, cooking disasters and football matches. and when baekhyun's words actually sink in, the spoon in yifan's hand drops to the floor with an uncomfortably loud ringing sound. four weeks. he has four weeks to write a novel, and he has no idea what to do.
"get writing as soon as possible," baekhyun taps the table with his fingers. he is a very unhelpful person. "tell me about your dream later."
yifan stares unhappily at the empty chair a long time after baekhyun leaves, the apartment door clicking shut behind him. yixing walks in, towel around his head. "good morning," yixing mumbles, eyes closed and arms outstretched cautiously as if blindfolded, and makes his way to the coffee machine. he stumbles into the counter. "take care of your toes," yifan calls over yixing's small yelp of pain.
"okay," yixing nods wearily, towel bobbing, and yifan claps a hand to his shoulder before going back to his dank, smelly room.
he draws his phone out of his pyjamas pocket and sends sehun a message. why is my room a refuge for all your socks. he passes by the room sehun shares with yixing, and peeks in. the window is wide open, sunlight gracing the image of sehun on his stomach across the bed, mouth open, a thread of saliva drooping down to meet the floor. yifan frowns and closes the door quickly.
baekhyun is wrong about his supposedly 'zero' motivation. he is very wrong. yifan will prove him wrong. but first, he will sort through all the piles of clothes littered about. they have been collecting for two months -- since yixing, their new housemate, moved in. about time he did something about them, then. this takes him approximately three hours.
by the time his laundry is appropriately sorted into piles of color-coded laundry, pyjama-wear (that's one group of three sub-piles -- striped pyjamas, polka-dotted pyjamas, and patterned pyjamas), formal wear (a separate hill of expensive underwear to with formal wear adjoins this) and wristwatches (along with various, somewhat broken, alarm clocks, garnering one pile), he decides to barge in on sehun's privacy and use some of his stuff. it's 3.03 p.m., and he has taken exactly eight steps to the room before he realizes, in the back of his mind, that wristwatches and alarm clocks are not laundry. so he backtracks resignedly, dumps them onto his rumpled bed, and resumes his mission of, frankly, not-writing. but yifan does not like this way of classifying his actions, so he grabs sehun's lipgloss of questionable origins off sehun's desk, smears it over his own eyelids in a moody fit, and proceeds to shower.
at five in the evening, sehun blares panic! at the disco on his laptop, and yifan bravely faces blank sheets of paper. i have all the motivation in the world, he writes, with a fancy fountain pen, but the ink fades more and more with each letter, and the nib scratches awfully throughout. it makes yifan want to break his own teeth, so he moves onto his laptop. i have all the motivation in the world! he types in, and yixing knocks on the open door. "i'll be going out," he says, "will you be needing any groceries? i'll get them on the way back."
yifan drags his eyes away from the murderous, hot pink comic sans font staring back at him from the screen. "groceries? i don't need anything, but sehun'll be wanting his usual milk melodrama. and oh -- fresh waffles from the new bakery. you know the one. please?"
yixing smiles. "okay." he stays in the doorway for a bit, as if about to say something else, before turning and leaving quietly. yifan catches sight of something on his wrist.
yixing shuffles back quickly. "yes?"
the string around his wrist. it's so familiar, but it's... it's not the same.
yifan blinks. "um, please get enough for all of us. lots of them."
yixing smiles again, dimples showing. "you didn't have to add that, i was going to get two full boxes."
but what's the string not the same as? surely he'd been comparing it to something for it to be familiar.
yifan nods, smiles back. "thanks, man."
"no problem," yixing tilts his head to the side cheerfully, before leaving again, closing the door behind him.
the string makes him restless. what is it? he lets his head fall back heavily against the headboard.
fifteen minutes later, in a successful attempt to distract himself, he is singing tonelessly, fearlessly, wholeheartedly along to an old lady's falsetto on the radio. sehun opens the door in a whirlwind of fury, expression murderous. the song reaches its crescendo. yifan falls to his knees, serenading him. sehun closes the door in quiet acceptance, expression nauseous. when the song ends, yifan crawls back up to his bed and stares at the ceiling. it is now nine p.m.
maybe baekhyun's right about this motivation thing.
yixing brings them two boxes of waffles, as promised, and yifan rips the first one apart in impatience. sehun skids in with a handy pair of scissors but is too late to be of use. "my hands," yifan raises one impressively to sehun's face, almost covering it entirely. "they are powerful."
sehun makes a very displeased expression, mouth literally flattening and turning down ridiculously at the corners. "that's amazing. i came for the waffles, not your gigantic palm."
yixing bites his lip and smiles at the floor, shoulders shaking as the two bicker mechanically, cooperatively taking out the plates and forks. "movie night or hockey match?" sehun taps his chin and stares lovingly at the tv. "i'm thinking hockey."
"hockey," yixing repeats in amazement. "i've been living-- gotten used to-- and yet-- hockey."
"hockey," sehun stares yixing coolly down.
"okay," yixing nods, eyes wide, voice a whisper. "hockey it is."
sehun is the only left watching after an hour, though. yifan does not bother to ask or look for the team name. sehun does not yell or cheer, just stares intensely. yixing passes out with half a waffle hanging out of his mouth (yifan winces), and the commentary is all in hungarian (the only channel that offered the match).
yifan finds himself back in his room, on the bed with his laptop in front of him. he taps a single key, over and over, facing a mainly-blank screen, once again. he's made a complete line out of the syllable. it looks ridiculous:
"ye," he reads out loud. "ye-ye-ye-ye-ye-ye-ye-ye." that's literally it, just 'ye', thirty seven times over. and as if on cue, his phone beeps inside his pocket. with a groan, he flops his face onto the keyboard and delves in his pants' pockets.
it's baekhyun, of course.
12.13 a.m. you haven't written a single word yet, have you
he's about to reply, he really is, but then baekhyun messages again.
12.13 a.m. no, wait, you've written something like 'a' fifty times.
"thirty seven," yifan says out loud, frowning, "i counted. and it's 'ye'." he doesn't reply and pockets the phone. his laptop screen is a hodge-podge of random characters from his faceplant into the keyboard. "ye," he reads again, starting from the first line.
then he changes his mind and takes his phone out again, switching to the english keyboard.
12.15 a.m. you could've said 'swag' then i could've said
12.15 a.m. 'something we asians got' and then you'd have
12.15 a.m. cried
12.16 a.m. yourself to sleep
12.16 a.m. like a pathetic little shit
12.17 a.m. use your big words in a book, pussy
yifan must get back at this, but it's past midnight, and permanently drawn curtains for a whacked up and inspirational timetable or not, he sleeps like a relatively normal person. he apologizes to his ego as he types in a lame response.
12. 18 a.m. u r faaar from inspiring
12.18 a.m. u r in fact gay!!!
12.19 a.m. so are you
yifan frowns in contemplation, because this is true. he'd come out to baekhyun at fifteen. again, he apologizes to himself. "i am going to write beautiful words tomorrow," he says, half-heartedly, and hits send.
12.20 a.m. u're supposed to be creative
12.21 a.m. don't make comebacks
12.21 a.m. make offenses
12. 21 a.m. be the orange mohawk amidst the commonplace ponytails
but baekhyun doesn't reply, has probably given up on him, so yifan sighs wearily and stares up at his thirty seven ye's, searching for inspiration.
tomorrow, he promises to himself, in earnest. tomorrow.
his second last thought before he falls asleep is, 'commonplace ponytails, yifan, really'. his mind is blank for a long while, as he falls deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. and then something floats through, something like a familiar voice, dusty with forgetting. how much time?
it makes him jolt, and when yifan opens his eyes, everything is cut cleanly into the razor sharp edges of the city, solid and brazen beneath him. it's afternoon, and the sun's rays, white hot, reflect up from the buildings. black on white on gray.
the cigarette falls to the floor, from tired fingers. "sometimes," yifan huffs out with great difficulty, "i am very sure that my life has just been... searching."
the smoke hazes his vision, slightly, but the light is catching yixing's fringe and turning it bronze, catching his skin and turning it gold. yixing looks up at him, amber eyes intent.
"life is searching."
his first chapter stares at him from his peripheral vision. it's almost done. yifan's not too pleased with it.
"i've not just been searching aimlessly, you know. not looking for my purpose in life, or a place in the world." he brings his hands up to make air quotes, but he drops them at an afterthought.
"then?" yixing taps his pencil against the desk, and it tac-tac-tacs loudly in the relative quiet. yifan can see little dust spots dancing in the air, more gold. he closes his eyes and leans his head back against the cushions.
"it's more like i'm searching for... for miracles." an exhale leaves him and he's rooted in position, desperate for an answer, a reaction of some kind. it's dark and dull red behind his eyelids, and he hears yixing sigh, hears the creak of the chair as he probably tips back in it, hears it tumble forward again on all legs as footsteps approach the window. hears yixing sigh again.
"i guess it's a little different for everybody," yixing says, at length. "what the search is for."
yifan opens his eyes. yixing is at the windowsill, arms braced against it, frowning into the sunlight. "does that mean you're searching, too? searching for something different?"
"sure." yixing turns his head to face him, teeth showing in a little smile. "memories. i've got to turn some pages back." he sounds slightly forceful, as if what he's saying has some hidden meaning. yifan doesn't know what to make of it, so he smiles back, a little uncertain. "sehun's all about the future."
"that he is. and you?"
he's chortling before he knows it. "figuring out the present is enough as it is, you know."
yixing hasn't looked away from yifan's face, and his smile widens, understandingly. (he's got two dimples -- yifan hadn't noticed the left one before.)
yifan doesn't know anything in his dream except that there is a woman. the back of a woman, clad in a white cardigan, wispy hair (they might be brown if he could see color), trailing just past the shoulders. there is nothing familiar about this woman. he hasn't seen anything from this picture before. he's sure of it. but there's a train of thought in his head, and it's a fast-moving train, moving at three hundred miles a minute, and he can see a brick wall in front of the woman. there's a wall in front of her, and she has stopped walking, he has stopped walking. he is a few paces behind her, and she is about to turn around. it feels like a revelation. he holds his breath. but the train of thought is too fast, too fast, barrelling into them like a wreck about to happen. she is turning, he sees a quarter of her face past the hair -- a high brow, a long nose. the sound of something shrill and piercing shoots through his senses, and the woman is fading, she is flickering from side to side like an old video put into an old TV set, and all he can think is, oh, mother. oh mother oh mother oh mother. mother, mama, and all he can hear is the shrill, the shrill --
"yifan," baekhyun shakes his shoulders. "yifan."
"nothing," he chokes out, and shrugs baekhyun's hands off. "i'll..." his mind is struggling under a thick, heavy blanket of downtown smog and white lacy cardigan sleeves. "i'll do this. i've got it. first chapter. just a few more pages."
"yifan, what pages?"
the question makes him frown, and he looks at what's in front of him. he's sitting at the table yixing had been. and what he's holding in his hands is an album. a photo album. he doesn't remember how he got it. he doesn't remember where he'd got it from. but he knows it very well.
his mother smiles up from the pages, many, many times over. her arm's around a friend in one photo, and around a much younger yifan in another. her hair are thick and black, eyes wistful and crinkling. she stands underneath a cherry blossom tree in a yellow sundress in one, sits on a bench in overalls in another, stares at someone who isn't in the frame and grips her straw hat tightly in yet another, and sips a glass at a party. baekhyun stares at the pictures with him.
"yifan," he says, quietly. "are you okay?"
yifan doesn't answer, turns the page. "that's my mother," he whispers, voice cracked. "did you know my mother?"
baekhyun's silence is hesitant; of course he hadn't know yifan's mother. yifan chooses to focus on the album instead.
her hair are getting thinner with each photo, eyes more wrinkled. yifan slides one out of its pocket, turns it over. his own writing is scrawled at the bottom. 猫儿山, 越城岭, 南岭. they'd climbed the highest yuecheng peak, mā'ér shā, of the five ranges, and he'd taken a picture of her at the top. she'd insisted on taking one of him too. yifan turns back to the page, carefully placing the photo of her on the tabletop. he looks carefully for a photo with eighteen year old yifan in it, but he can't find it. "can you see me in any of these?" he asks baekhyun. baekhyun points out one of him at fifteen immediately. "no no," yifan bats his hand away. "with the mountains. see me with the mountains anywhere?"
baekhyun says no, he can't. yifan flips the pages, and baekhyun says he can't, and yifan can't, either. "there was a photo," yifan frowns, shaking his head. "i know there was. she took it, and she showed it to me and--" he freezes. "she took it," he mumbles. "she took it."
"she took the photo away?"
"i don't know," yifan shakes his head again, and the world blurs a few times into black as he blinks so rapidly he feels his eyeballs almost roll back into his head. "but she took the picture. i stood there, foot of the tree, and waved. and she took it. i saw the flashbulb go off."
"can you believe this?" yifan doesn't even know what he's saying anymore. he just feels a heightening panic, something rising up from his stomach, climbing up his sides, to his ribs, and pooling at the back of his mouth. "can you believe this. she took pictures. she took pictures!" he stands up, and the floor tilts and the album falls, and baekhyun looks like he's four whole feet away but his arms on yifan's shoulders. how are his hands on his shoulders? how is yifan still standing? the floor's shaking awfully roughly and he can't find any balance. he feels like he's going to throw up, and he catches sight of a cigarette on the floor and feels something hot prick at his eyelids. feels something hot prick everywhere. his mother was alive and she took pictures and held her arms around friends. she had arms and she could move them, and she had hair. remember how she had hair? prickle prickle prickle, he's beginning to feel like he has no stomach and his head is too heavy to hold up. she had such lovely thick, black hair. she would braid it. she would let yifan braid it.
where is she?
no, that’s a ridiculous question. don’t think about questions.
she took pictures. she took good pictures, she looked pretty in pictures, she made the best yancai and yuchi tang. "yifan," someone is saying, and it sounds very familiar and warm and rich, and he needs to write, perhaps, about their mountain trip. she'd told him to write about their mountain trip. she'd taken his picture at the top, and he'd taken hers. where was the picture of him?
"yifan!" baekhyun is shaking him by the shoulders, and yifan blinks at him.
"i need to write about the trip," he whispers.
it takes three hours to shake baekhyun off. sehun doesn't come home. yixing is probably asleep. yifan leans against the cool glass, feels the sweat drip down his temples and sees the wide expanse of city beneath him. cigarette butts litter the floor. he opens the window halfway, and feels it well up in him again, longing, longing, terror, longing, nausea, terror, guilt.
what had the psychiatrist said? there's nothing to be guilty about.
oh, but there was. there was everything. everything to be guilty about. everything. from the nights out to the skipped breakfasts, to the hangovers and headaches and dropping out from the basketball team. and she'd kept shedding weight, smiling, losing hair, smiling, crying at night when she thought he was asleep, smiling. and he hadn't said a word; not once, not ever. he'd gone to school one day, come back at eight in the evening to find her shivering in her old, green flannel gown. bald.
"chemo," she whispered, when he'd stared. and he'd kept staring, until he dropped his eyes and walked past her. she'd turned around, after him, and said, "it's okay. it'll be okay."
and he'd said, "i know," although he hadn't. he hadn't known anything. he hadn't known anything, and when she'd fallen asleep on the sofa he'd confusedly cried himself to sleep on his mattress, in the far corner of the room. he hadn't known anything.
"it'll be okay," yifan whispers, hands scraping at the windowsill. "it'll be fine. it's okay." he hadn't known anything.
his shoulders are shaking faster and harder than he'd care to admit, than he'd care, than -- he's doubled over, knees to his chest and fists to his stomach, rocking back and forth, head hitting the wall every time he lurches forward. "it's okay," he croaks, trying to get in control, trying to fight the remorse down. "it's okay," he says, and there's bile climbing up his throat, and he can't see shit. everything's a blur but his eyes feel dry and there’s salt in his mouth. he can hear rough, scraping noises somewhere in the back of his mind, and somewhere else in the back of his mind he suspects he's making the noises, and his mother took pictures of him when he was eighteen and when he was seven and every single week, and she used to chalk up his height against the kitchen wall and make his favorite cake on his birthdays, and she used to breathe and be alive and answer when he called, if he ever called, why did he stop calling, why did he stop calling, why did he stop calling, why did he stop calling, why can't he stop now why can't he stop now why can't he--
he chokes on his breath and drops to the floor completely. there's tears smeared on his forehead and snot on his wrist, and he can feel his pulse pounding in his ears. he's too weak to move. his eyes flutter shut. he sees her smile underneath his eyelids, but it's slightly blurred from all the years he hasn't been able to see it. slightly blurred from the lack of trying to see it in the first place.
he needs to check his phone.
he should have done something he should have done something he should have goddamned done something, should have done something more than just hold her hand, should have told her it was going to be okay. should have done something.
regret is better than panic. he can think with regret. he can think clearly, he can steer it away. he can push it away til the next time, the next time, next year, when he will break down for no reason, again. again?
he needs to check his phone.
03.04 a.m. hey
03.04 a.m. you okay?
he regards the screen, hands still shaking, the beginnings of a migraine scraping at his skull.
03.05 a.m. it always comes back
03.05 a.m. like needles
03.05 a.m. everywhere, you know?
03.06 a.m. like someone's gutting me out
03.06 a.m. it'll be fine
03.06 a.m. one day
it needs to be fine. it had better be fine. she smiled all the time and he needs to finish the first chapter. it's seven minutes past three in the morning, and he needs to finish the first chapter. he gets up, slowly. his legs are wobbly but the floor stays still and his balance is acceptable. each step feels like glass splinters slicing up his heels and through his stomach. he shouldn't be able to walk when she needed a wheelchair in the last five months. he shouldn't be able to breathe like this, not when she needed a tank. not when not when not when not when she wasn't ali--
"first chapter," he rasped, breaking out into a sweat all over again. "we're fine. it's okay. first chapter."
"we're fine," a voice says, from the door, and yifan can't believe his ears. "it's okay," the voice repeats, and no, it's different. it's a different voice. is he relieved or impossibly disappointed? "first chapter," the words continue, tone airy. "almost done, right?" there are wiry, sturdy arms under his armpits, dragging him towards the bathroom. "got to wash your face first, then we write the last few lines."
"pages," yifan groans, "few pages left."
"alright, then! last few pages," yixing says, cheerfully, and turns on the tap. "i'll make the water lukewarm, yeah? you don't need to wake up too much or you'll go batshit."
"batshit," yifan nods, dumbly. "lukewarm."
he's drinking out everything in the cellar. he's drinking out everything, and he's well into his third chapter. he's sitting on the bed, reeking of alcohol and sweat and bad, bad aura. yixing is lying at the foot of the bed, staring at him. the moonlight is climbing up his cheekbones, and in half an hour he'll be bathed in it. he'll look beautiful. yifan has never typed this fast, has never glanced so persistently and constantly between screen and person. yixing blinks at him, sleepily. "done yet?"
wait, he types, in the middle of his sentence, and groans. "wait," he replies, pleading. "just a bit more." he wants to see yixing in the moonlight. it'll help. he doesn't know where that's coming from, but he knows it will help. it will help with the migraine, maybe, and it will definitely help with the chapter.
yixing nods, stares up at the ceiling. "i'm guessing that was pretty difficult," he says, after a few minutes, and yifan's shoulders tense but he continues, fingers not faltering. he sees the picture as if he's actually seen it, sees the sky, very gray and very hopeless. sees a single telephone line, home to forty eight pigeons. sees the naked trees and the first snow of winter, falling uncertain and timid. yixing is talking past the images, and yifan types in the last letter and pulls himself away.
"and you probably don't want to talk about it right now," he's saying. "but if you ever do. or just want some food. or something. i'm right down the corridor, and i pay a third of the rent. i'm here."
the moon's risen far faster than yifan had guessed, its light touching his lashes and turning them silver. yixing is white gold, and when he raises his head to look at yifan properly, his eyes are ashen skies. "thank you," yifan says, slowly. "thank you."
yixing smiles, and yifan sees the woman again. wispy hair, white cardigan, brick wall. sees the splash of red that had melted the city in the first place. "yixing?" yifan asks, throat constricting, and yixing nods, expectant. but there is nothing to say. he can't say anything.
"thank you. i mean it."
"and thank you," yixing bows his head, before lying back down.
yifan is confused and dumbstruck because having someone say thank you back to him in this situation is…unexpected. not to mention almost insane. but yixing blinks and his lashes flutter and from the depths of his mind yifan feels something stirring, something saying, ‘this is dangerous, what’s going on’but he needs to write for mama. baekhyun. this human right in front of him. he needs to write. he’ll do what it takes.
so he turns back to the screen, and although his glances are just as constant, they’re more hesitant.
in yifan's story, he writes about hurtling down to the mountains by tram. the sky is a pearl white with ash-gray clouds and a silver streak of sunlight struggling through. the tram breaks down in the middle, so he types out cramped legs and thin jackets, useless against the cold. there's a pitstop with a drugstore. last minute supplies are bought before the trek starts. he goes on and on. he smells the sharp, biting cold, again, tastes the searing wind and feels the steps under his feet, rope around his waist, gets lost, loses himself, gets lost in the memories, in the feel of the keys under his fingers and the words appearing on the screen. all the right words, all the right words.
the room is flooded with moonlight, and yixing is halo'd in wrinkles from the bedsheet and rays of white light from the window. he looks beautiful.
yifan takes a swig from the bottle next to him and keeps on writing.
when yifan wakes up, he feels a restlessness bordering stir crazy and a ringing sensation of having had his head smashed through concrete. multiple times. he feels disgusting and sweaty and strangely empty because he hadn’t had a single dream, and he feels -- god, never mind, he’s going to throw up.
reflexes kick in far faster and more effectively than he would have believed possible for himself, and he’s projectile vomiting into the toilet bowl before he knows it. he sees bits of waffle and throws up some more, and then he heaves up what was probably pretty good soju last night. it isn’t anymore, though. it’s so acidic, his throat clenches in on itself and he ends up choking on his own vomit. he clutches the rim of toilet and vomits through the choking and is able to breathe temporarily before he’s puked everything in his stomach, liver and kidneys and starts dry heaving instead.
the only thing that stops him from crying in exasperation is his pride and the fact that he probably cried last night--
he determinedly goes back to dry heaving and not thinking.
sehun finds him in the bathroom fifteen minutes later, shivering pathetically on the tiles. “dude.”
yifan can’t even begin to muster the strength up to still himself.
“hyung?”sehun leans forward uncertainly before shaking his head and sitting down next to him. “yixing said you might be out of sorts today, but he didn’t say you’d be this bad.”
well, it’s not like yifan can blame him. he downs alcohol well, it just doesn’t settle amazingly. sehun’s nice and warm next to him, though, and he reaches forward to the toilet again, pushing himself up. sehun’s standing right up beside him at once. “hey, hey.”
yifan feels freezing, and his head is like-- he can’t think of anything, but it’s pretty shit. he stumbles back into his room, sehun’s arm around his waist, and falls face first onto the bed. and then he realizes he hasn’t brushed his teeth: he can taste bile on his lips. sehun seems to have realized this, too, and comes around with some mouthwash in his toothbrush mug. “here,” he hears him say, and yifan takes it, hand trembling.
sehun has to leave for his microeconomics exam, so yifan is left curled up on the one seater in the living room, staring glumly at the wall. he doesn’t know how long he’s stuck like that, but eventually a key turns in the lock, and someone comes in. he strains his ears; the shoes come off slowly and are lined carefully against the wall. it’s yixing, then.
and yifan finally lets last night crash fully onto him, squeezes his eyes shut in pain pounding against his skull and embarrassment. his fingers curl into the cushion he’s holding, and yixing walks in, smiling.
“morning!”he says, pulling off his scarf. “well, afternoon, i guess. how’re you feeling today?”
“'m sorry,” is all yifan can manage. “i was pretty useless yesterday.”
yixing pads across the room to him and drags the cushion out of his hands. “you were reacting yesterday,”he corrects. “that’s a normal thing.”
yifan’s stomach twists at that. reacting after six years is pretty pathetic, he’s sure. you get over things in six years. get over people. move on.
“how’re you feeling,” yixing prods his knee with a finger, and yifan doesn’t quite feel a question mark. he’s practically being demanded for an answer.
“i don’t know,” he mumbles, uncomfortable. “i guess i feel like a hangover.” and yifan isn’t looking at him but he knows yixing’s frowning right now.
“you mean you’re having a hangover.”
“no no,”yifan shakes his head, emphatically, feeling stupid but also misunderstood. “i feel like a hangover. as if i am the hangover.” and it’s true, he’s very liquidy and sticky and dark, and gross. and like some kind of shadow of a reaper of souls. he’s sure a personified hangover would feel that way.
“are you by any chance, hungover?” yixing carefully hands him back his cushion, then takes his jacket off.
well. there is the migraine. lots of nausea. his vision is cut suddenly into darkness as yixing dumps the jacket on his head.
“um,” yifan says, unphased and slightly grateful for this treatment. “maybe.”
“soup for that?”
his mouth opens before he can fully process this. “maybe. but--”
“never mind buts. i’ll get it.”
yifan frowns, thinks about why on earth yixing would get him soup after probably having wrecked his sleep over him earlier. “what’re you doing?” he calls out, feeling a bit lost. the ghost of a chill is coming back, too. “SOUP,” yixing declares, from the kitchen. “CHICKEN AND TOMATOES AND SOUP.”
“no, i mean--” yifan stops because he’s not sure what he means, and his brain feels awful. then he frowns again and mutters to himself, "i feel like a hangover." he feels like a hangover. and then he feels electrified, sits up and reaches for a one of the napkins on the side table. feel like a hangover, he scrawls on it with the almost-finished ballpoint that’s next to the napkin pile, and folds the white sheet, tucks it in his shirt.
he tries apologizing again over the (very, very good) soup, but yixing puts down his bowl and looks at him fixedly, expression blank. yifan stutters to a stop and takes an appreciatively big slurp of soup. “this is amazing,” he mumbles, again, and yixing melts back into smiling at him. his facial transitions, yifan notes, can be scary.
sehun comes back a few hours later, tuckered out, exhausted, and miserable. “the exam,” he shakes his head. “i’m quitting school.”
“you can’t quit,” yifan says, encouragingly, trying to read the book he’d borrowed from jongdae three months ago. it’s interesting, but he keeps turning it around in nervousness and finds himself attempting to read it upside down after zoning out for ten minutes at a time. he puts it away with a sigh. “school isn’t a job. it’s a lifestyle.”
“it’s a forced lifestyle,” sehun plunks himself down on the floor in the middle of yifan’s room. “like being raised by conservative nuns when you actually want to be a hooker.”
“not a bad analogy. for you.”
“listen, good analogies are for you and your books and your book-induced drinking habits and all that follows thereby. or thereon. whatever. how did today go, by the way?”
yifan frowns. “we are not.”
sehun raises his hands in defense and shrugs. “okay, jeez.” he turns around to drag out some packages from his satchel and lugs them onto his lap. “i will begin this.”
yifan pushes the book farther away, and lies down, watching sehun. he has no idea how his luck landed him with sehun since fourth grade and baekhyun since kindergarten, but he’s very grateful about it now and then. he feels sleep weighing on his eyelids.
this time, before he falls asleep, he sees the name lia, all hazy as if resurfacing from some old, old memory. and then again, how much time?
his dreams are underwater. he floats, sinks, rides on the back of a shark. the shark leads him in deep, thousands of kilometers down. to a kingdom of beings with flashing fins and angry, almost-human eyes. he sees a crown, perched on a prince’s head. he tries to raise a hand, walk forward, but his legs are glued to the shark and his hand is nowhere to be seen. he looks down, terrified.
he is the shark.
the warriors approach with swords.
he tries to call out, to stop them, but although he hears a deafening roar in his own ears, he knows somehow that they can’t perceive.
he wakes up feeling pretty okay, although his arms smart from being thoroughly stabbed and impaled in his weird-ass dream.
he hasn’t really touched his laptop since day before yesterday, and every day the initial four weeks loom in closer and closer, lesser and lesser than the actual four weeks, so he might as well go back there.
“this is bull,” he whispers, furiously, to himself. “this is pure crap.”
he is so emotional and let down by himself that he dives for his phone and actually initiates a conversation.
baekhyun is a beautiful, true friend. surely he will have some kind of plan to fix this.
7.56 a.m. ye. thats what u think
7.57 a.m. guess wat. u think wrong
7.57 a.m. i remember ur 5th grade composition
okay, maybe so he isn’t so beautiful.
7.58 a.m. ur like a parent. do i need to be reminded of past failures
7.58 a.m. as if my life is still a failure?
7.59 a.m. u did say it was fewmet stuff
7.59 a.m. didnt kno i was poking at unhealed wounds
with a frustrated sigh, yifan closes the chat and calls him instead. baekhyun picks up at the first ring. “all my writing is unhealed wounds. now come over and mutilate what i wrote so i can figuratively cry and try to do something acceptable.” yifan hangs up without waiting for him to say anything.
there’s a beep half a minute later.
8.03 a.m. u kno
8.03 a.m. the internet exists. we could discuss online
8.04 a.m. cant believe u get fanmail even occasnlly
“oh shut up,” yifan mutters, glaring tiredly at the screen.
then, as a rebuttal to baekhyun’s unbased accusation, he signs in. the first email is from sehun, and the subject looks somewhat helpful.
the quotes are kind of questionable, but he clicks on it anyway. it’s pretty blank except for a link to an article.
yifan clicks. yifan reads. it is a mocking article of dan brown’s writing style. yifan does not share this writing style, but he gives up and loses all self-confidence anyhow. he had liked the da vinci code, dammit.
sehun slouches in, grinning knowingly, and flops on the bed, holding a bunch of things.
“you are a failure at life,” yifan glares at the laptop screen and closes the article page.
“ah, but you’re a failure at sex,” sehun sighs, and proceeds to demolish yifan’s personal ice cream tub.
“am not,” is all yifan can manage in the face of this blasphemy, this utter disrespect of his existence. personal ice cream tub. personal.
“are too. i have your voicemail saved, by the way. from the day after?” sehun flings down the spoon in delight. “s-sehun,” he stutters, voice not deep enough, “i-i just wanted to say thanks for last night. i mean. i mean, wow. wow, thanks.”
yifan’s head is in his hands. “did i actually say that?”
“three years ago. ah, the good days,” sehun sighs. “i was senpai, you were slave. don’t feel victimized, though,” he adds, as if he’s being kind. “my dick is an earthquake, got all the...” he trails off, blinking with a frown. “the tectonic plates of your brain shifting. i guess? sounded smoother in my head.”
desirous of steering the topic of conversation away from himself, yifan raises his eyes mournfully. “not with zitao, though. have you two even slept yet?”
sehun frowns. “don’t bring him up. he’s never getting this winner.”he points to his crotch, then licks the spoon.
yifan feels a pang of sympathy for zitao. sehun’s dick really does blow minds. “and why’s that?”
sehun wriggles. “he’s too…sincere. sincerity can’t be rewarded with penis. that would mean love. which doesn't float my boat.”
“yes,” yifan muses, turning his attention back to the screen and the blank pages of disappointment therein. “your boat floats on ejaculated semen, not feelings.”
“exactly,” sehun grunts, mouth full. “you get me, hyung. this is why we live together.”
“you live together because your ass is as broke as broke gets,” baekhyun intones, ambling into the room. “don’t yell, i know i’m always sneaking in these days. you guys did give me the keys, though. yifan, word count?”
“don’t. just don’t.”
baekhyun and yifan turn to stare at sehun, who obediently gathers himself up, ice cream tub, spoon an all, and leaves the room.
“this stuff,” yifan begins, as soon as the door shuts behind him. he waves his hands wildly. “how will it get done. do you have any idea how shitty is? you don’t! and you know what, you don’t need to have an idea! you--”
baekhyun pulls the laptop from him and starts clicking.
“don’t say anything if it’s awful,” yifan says, voice small, and picks at his nails.
baekhyun takes two hours to read the three chapters. yifan is so upset that he paces, drinks five glasses of water, wanders sadly into the room sehun shares with yixing to find nobody there, rifles through the bills for last month and temporarily considers learning the dance to crayon pop’s bar bar bar.
meanwhile, baekhyun’s expression gets more and more unreadable as he goes over the pages, and when he’s finished, he hands it over silently. yifan is terrified. that must have been even worse than he’d thought.
“aside from a few sentence fragment things, and a lot of probably drunk typos, i’d say,” baekhyun stops, pauses.
yifan blinks at him. he’s sure he’ll turn into a cat any second and start screaming like a baby under baekhyun’s heavy silence.
“i’d say i want to know what happens next,” baekhyun shrugs, finally. “you made out like it was some cumdumpster gig, i was expecting the word ‘and’ repeated fifty thousand times over.”
“you want to know…what happens next?”
baekhyun shrugs again. “dude. it’s pretty good.”
yifan realizes turning into a cat would be great at this point, only it isn’t happening any time soon, so he’s stuck with a lumpy throat and a ton of relieved disbelief.
“it’s not…it’s not like the dan brown article sehun linked me?” he ventures over his lumpy throat, but baekhyun’s eyebrows lower fantastically, “what in hell are you talking about?” so yifan shuts up and wallows, anxious-happy, with said lumpy throat.
something that’s been bothering yifan lately is that he knows sehun’s schedule by heart, he almost kind of knows where the plot’s going with his own project, and he definitely knows every unnecessary detail of baekhyun’s life. which, he surmises, comes with being best friends. then again, he still has the number of his old college roommate, park chanyeol, and remembers with absolute clarity the dozens of horrendous pranks he’d drafted and pinned up on the walls of their unholy mess of a room. that was years ago, and they weren’t even crazy close.
and then, amidst his omnipresent knowledge of all people he knows, there is zhang yixing, who he practically lives with, and has very little idea about.
well, okay, there’s the personality traits of being responsible, quiet, full of worry, very caring, and being an amazing cook --is that even a personality trait?-- but he has no idea what zhang yixing actually does. apart from frown at his papers and squiggle on them with pencil. pencil. he goes around carrying pencils and rubbers in his pockets and papers in his hands. like some kind of old-fashioned personal assistant, except with nobody apparently visible to assist.
then he remembers that he and sehun had helped yixing move in, and there’d been a big guitar case among the many things to hoist up fifteen floors (well. they had used the elevator so it wasn’t as bad as it seemed). yixing might be writing music. this was very possible. yifan stares hard at the ceiling. he must somehow find out.
unfortunately for himself, yifan is a wimp, so he doesn’t actually end up doing much other than hang around sehun and yixing’s room whenever he isn’t eating, writing, staring at his laptop with revulsion, sleeping or taking a shower. surprisingly, this can amount to a creepily large amount of time. especially when yifan just sits silently on the bed opposite yixing’s and tries to finish reading the book thief. sehun has been yelling about it for days and ignoring writing his assignment, so yifan is trying to do him a favor by reading it and telling him it’s a good book. or something. he isn’t actually reading it. he’s staring at yixing from behind the pages.
this cycle of tentative spying rolls around for precisely a day and a half before yixing looks up and catches yifan staring at him with very wide eyes. yifan is about to pee his pants, but then yixing raises his eyebrows and laughs.
this is very relieving.
both of yixing’s dimples are showing and that’s even more relieving.
“ah,” yifan musters. “hello.”
“yes, hello,” yixing grins, and everything unrelieves itself because yifan doesn’t actually know what else to say.
“i, um,” he attempts being clever. “i’m reading this book sehun’s got to do an assignment on.”
yixing nods, pencil poised mid-air. he’s waiting for yifan to go on, but the problem is such that he doesn’t actually have anything else to say. well, he does. and what’re you doing? you seem really busy, i’m curious. but that would be invading privacy. right?
“it’s nice,”he ends, lamely.
“ah,” yixing nods again, and he starts scrawling something on his notepad. he has an actual notepad, not some basic application in windows. yifan blinks, fascinated.
yixing looks up a second time, smile very small and knowing. “you won’t turn into a cockroach if you talk to me while i do stuff, you know.”
“i don’t like cockroaches,” yifan muses. “they’re very unpleasant.” his voice sounds a whole lot louder than he intended.
yixing’s smile becomes a bit smaller and a lot more confused. oops? “i feel the same way,” yixing clears his throat. “about cockroaches.”
“hmm,” yifan lapses worryingly back into the book. he tries to concentrate on a death person meeting up with a girl around three times with a book she’d stolen from somewhere but it doesn’t work out very well, because his very feet are itching with the question he wants to ask.
he takes a deep breath.
“hey,” he begins, very cautious. his toes are curling, he notes, and he can’t be bothered uncurling them because that would take precious energy away from the being cautious part. “can i ask you about your... stuff?”
at once the dimples appear. the relief yifan feels begins to mix with a slow sense of foreboding.
“you probably can,” yixing acknowledges, “but perhaps if you’d be a bit more specific, it’d be cool.”
yifan blinks at him for the umpteenth time and dives his nose back into the book. this conversation is going to proceed very slowly if he keeps this up.
“uh. what do you…do? with the paper. and pencils,” he mumbles, looking owlishly at yixing from over the book again.
“i have rubbers, too,” yixing informs him, and yifan gives a guilty start because he already knows that very well.
“yes, the rubbers. them too.” i like the green ones you keep in the back pocket of your bunny pyjamas, he thinks, and gives another guilty start. knowing this much is probably a sin. perhaps he should retire.
“well,” yixing laughs, shoulders hunching up a bit, and he looks really shy right now, insecure. “i try to write music. not very good at it!”he adds, hurriedly. “but that’s what i do. later, i might...” he trails off and frowns, then erases at something he’d written earlier.
“might?” yifan prompts.
yixing looks up at him for a second before riveting his eyes back on his paper. “i might get better. might be-- good? and maybe. write proper songs. perform. i’ve always wanted to, uh, do that.”
yifan smiles at this; yixing as someone with his own dreams. “i’m sure you will,” he says, earnestly. “i mean, you do this stuff all day! practise makes perfect, right?” and he knows it probably isn’t the most elaborate or encouraging thing to say, but yixing’s got his own motivation already.
and yixing cracks a smile, too. “right.”
yifan puts his book down and wriggles forward onto his stomach. “so,” he leans his head on his hand, excited. “how’d you start wanting to do music?”
yixing looks pleased, if a bit taken aback, and mulls over his answer for a moment before replying. “i guess always liked listening to music, of course. everyone does, right? and later in school i decided on taking music theory because, well, why not.” he makes a face at his paper again, crosses something out and then chews his pencil. (yifan tries to quell his instinct and succeeds in not telling him off.)
“but then a high school senior started helping out in class when the teacher resigned in the middle of term. he did music theory and handed out fliers twice a week-- his best friend was taking up vocal training for other kids, to save up. there were family problems, or something, i think. we talked once or twice, but i got along better with the music theory senior, you know?”
yifan nods, though he doesn’t really know. yixing sets his notepad aside, shifting so he sits cross-legged.
“so i did music theory with him, and we became such good friends that i’d go over to his house anytime i wanted and he’d do vocal training with me. that was a,” he breaks off with a fond laugh, “that was a breakthrough. i was a breakthrough. he hadn’t gotten any new friends since eighth grade. his friend-- jonghyun hyung-- he was really astonished and pleased about it. told me i should drag him around town, get him to get out of the house more often. but i’m okay with walls. open spaces are much better, but that’s all relative to the person in question. and why take someone out of their comfort zone, right?”
“right,” yifan nods again, emphatically. baekhyun should be here and feel ashamed of himself.
“as long as it isn’t making them dysfunctional, it’s their decision!” yixing states, wisely.
okay, maybe baekhyun shouldn’t be here. he’d be smirking if he were. (yifan gets dysfunctional easily.)
“and that’s…" yixing laughs a little again, although this time it sounds forced, and cut short quicky. “that’s kind of how i seriously got into this! good friends and a lot of high school stress. otherwise i’d be a hippie or something, providing all the rebels of the community with hot pink weaves.”
yifan almost chokes. “hot pink weaves!” he raises his eyebrows and tries to synthesise a knowledgeable expression on his face. “totally. they’re. they’re awesome. that’d be great, too.”
hot pink weaves turn out to be a conversation killer, though. they lapse into a somewhat comfortable silence after that; comfortable on yixing’s end, as he fiddles absently with his blue erasers, and not so comfortable with yifan staring hard at the foot of the bed.
he really, really wants to ask yixing to play something, but he can’t because that would be awful and people are protective of what they create and yixing has just told him some important things and he can’t just push it. but he really wants to hear yixing play. very much. he is finishing this train of thought when he realizes he’s just nodding into space without anybody saying anything to nod to, and this probably makes him look like a duck.
so he rolls over onto his back and jumps off the bed in what would be a cool move if it weren’t for the fact that he lands ass-first on the floor with his head head hitting the frame. he’s on his feet in shock before yixing can open his mouth, and he glares at the bed. “can you ask sehun,” yifan wheezes, “to sleep in a meadow of styrofoam. forever?”
“i…okay. you okay?”
“i am great,” yifan says, more to convince himself than reply to the question, and walks weakly towards the door.
“hey, are you going?” yixing asks, and yifan’s quite selfishly glad to allow himself to perhaps misconstrue (or just plain imagine) a little disappointment in his voice.
“i think-- i’ve taken up a lot of your time, i guess,” yifan turns and gestures towards the notepad and pencil. “you need to keep practising so you can perform, right?” and he feels very accomplished when yixing drops his gaze shyly again and smiles a little smile.
“oh, but,” yixing adds, “how’s your book going?”
generally, yifan likes people asking him how his stuff is going because it means he’s got moral support from those people. but right now the story’s going uselessly slowly so he’d rather not do question things. still, he can’t brush his new friend off, so he turns around, walking backwards towards the door now.
“it’s going…okay. not too great. i’m being slow. it’s coming out weird.”
“i’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out, though,” yixing says, enthusiastically, and yifan feels a lift in spirits. at least yixing believes in him. “how far have you reached?”
“fou--” yifan’s interrupted in his backward walking by the doorframe. first his back bumps into it, then his head. he stands still, eyes closed, defeated by the universe and the three fates. he hears a quiet giggle, feels a little indignant and a little pleased. “i, uh, fourth? chapter? i actually need to finish it quick and start the fifth, so…"
he’s in the midst of stuffing as many waffles as humanly possible in his face with one hand and typing a funeral scene with the other when yixing peeks in through the open door. “hello,” he tips his head, “can i come in?”
yifan strategically ups the laptop screen so it covers his atrociously open mouth with unchewed waffle in it. “yes,” he calls, thickly, and tries to lock his jaws over the carbohydrates. it works, but barely.
yixing gives a little bow and sits on the beanbag that sehun usually enthrones himself on. “hmm,” he says, quietly, and looks around.
regretfully pushing away the plate of waffles, he goes back to the funeral and deletes the entire scene before starting again. this time, he notes he’s typing faster. he’s not going over every sentence and changing his words half the time, either. that’s odd.
yixing stretches and walks over to the window, resting his elbows on the windowsill. “nice view,” he comments. “a bit different from mine.”
yifan makes a noncommittal noise, trying to place why he has a sudden feeling of deja vu. and then he recalls the last time this happened and his typing slows down. he’d been utterly wasted. at this, he stops completely, frozen with regret and some green sludge probably dripping in his stomach.
“i didn’t say anything awful, did i?”
yixing looks up. he’s in front of the bookshelf, now. “when?”
this implies that he’s said awful things multiple times, but yifan ignores this and presses on. “the three a.m. time.”
“oh,” yixing says, studying his feet. he makes his way over to yifan on the bed and sits down next to him. “that one.” his face is serious and his silence ominous. yifan is going to turn into a crawling snail and be squelched by the CEO of his internet service provider.
yixing doesn’t say much, but he presses his lips together and stares at his clasped hands.
seconds tick by. his stomach is lurching further down the abyss of unnamed horrors.
“you didn’t say anything,” yixing informs him, and bursts into laughter at the look on yifan’s face. yifan stares at him, experiencing something similar to deadness. like a tree turned to stone. “i felt like a trainwreck about to happen,” he confesses, naive and forlorn, and yixing just falls off the bed, screaming.
the green sludge in his stomach churns and rises in toxic fumes and tickles his throat. being the butt of this joke doesn’t feel too bad; yixing laughs with his shoulders and his stomach, heaving together as he shuts his eyes tightly and turns red in the face. yifan grins despite himself.
“oh,” yixing sniffs, eventually. his eyes are watering. “oh, buddha. that was wonderful. i should get into cahoots with sehun.”
no, he can’t allow this. “absolutely not,” yifan snaps, and yixing sits up, amazed. yifan regrets it already. “sorry,” he mumbles.
“it’s alright,” yixing says, although he still looks surprised.
“nothing’s alright,” sehun pops his head in. “what are you two boogers buggering on about.” and yifan’s temporary feelings of irritation with sehun fade, too. really, why’d he get like that in the first place? these kids are great.
“he wants to join your team,” yifan informs him. “and slice me in two.”
the grin that spreads over sehun’s face is one worth watching spread, if yifan is going to be honest. “zhang yixing?” sehun whispers. “are you for real?”
they’re great, yifan echoes to himself.
the problem is that every time he falls asleep, someone in his head hollers how much time? and he has absolutely no idea who this person is, or what they could possibly mean. he has three weeks left: twenty one days, twenty one nights. his pace isn’t awful, he can make it by the deadline, but something is grossly off.
he has a weird gut feeling to take the album out again, except he can’t risk it. he’d lost almost two days on writing with that stunt last week, and literally every second is precious. the only reason he’s not writing right now is that he’d stayed up until seven a.m., toasting the sunrise between paragraphs. and now he’s so exhausted, he can’t even sleep.
angry, he fluffs his pillow once more and drops his head back onto it. it’s still uncomfortable, so he flips it over. but he’s just done this thrice in the past five minutes, so it’s not welcomingly cold. it’s got the dent of his arm against it, unsatisfying as hell.
yixing knocks (it’s only ever yixing who knocks) and yifan groans.
“i’ll be out most of the day. back around three, then out again. you okay?” yixing raises his voice so it goes through the locked door.
yifan feels greatly comforted with how you okay has become something yixing says without fail at least once in their conversations.
“you truly have my back, yixing,” yifan declares, fist in the air. “your plans are imprinted in my memory! please pray i fall asleep.”
he hears a muffled “okay,” and the patter of yixing’s shoes against the floor, quickly fading away. yifan drops his fist and feels like yelling. he wants to sleep. he wants to sleep. all he wants is to sleep so he can start writing again, is that honestly too much to ask of himself?
there’s a jarring pulse in his temple, and great, he needs a budding blood pressure problem to tip off this iceberg.
he’s so upset that his eyes begin to flutter closer together, by degrees, and the next thing he knows is a sudden full stop to his thoughts mid-sentence and a familiar, exasperatingly meaningless, how much time?
the city’s buildings aren’t buildings anymore, they’re statues. statues carved hollow from within, as giant toothpicks with pulsing light, almost a ghostly blue, line the streets.
he feels warm and cold and then warm again as people push softly against him and pass without resistance, stepping right through his legs and torso as if he didn’t exist. so he walks along, keeps pace so he doesn’t feel clammy or feverish or made of smoke.
there’s thousands of them, all heading towards a single statue. it’s like a procession, going far into the horizon. they walk for hours, up and down the roads, under bridges and over highways. he should feel tired, yifan realizes, but he feels more like he’s floating, softly, limbs inexhaustive. the sun overhead, a bright, painful white, travels fast across the sky the dark sky, setting unbelievably quickly.
the moon comes up, and still the sky is dark. there are no stars. it seems like a year later when yifan finds himself at the foot of-- of something. he tilts his head back, squinting. the statue is of a woman, and he thinks that if he could see color in this world, she would be dull bronze.
the people begin to walk through him again, and he hurries to catch up.
there is a hall, marble and tiled with pillars and paintings. and a stairway that starts in the center and leads all the way to the top of the statue, through floors of glass and walls of sharp, glinting steel.
a guide, smartly dressed. he can only see the back of her, guesses her light hair are blonde. he doesn’t know how he manages it or why he does it, but yifan steps right behind her, first in line. he thinks, stupidly, how could a korean be blonde?
when he turns around again, the guide’s vanished. he is halfway up the structure, with the translucent tiling on the glass floor disappearing fast beneath his feet, and all around the faceless people from his dreams. it’s like they’re made of paper: thin, stark white and fragile.
he stands still amongst them, and for a small moment, the world stops. his eyelids go down once, up once, and he sees them all around, paused in position. inhale, exhale.
they move again. one of them screams something. a prolonged shriek of a vowel, and a lighter flies through the air. click. “NO!” he shouts, but they are already aflame.
he tries to help. he runs after one of them, tries to stamp out the fire, tries to pull them away.
yifan is exhausted and sweaty by the time he wakes up. as soon as his eyes open and the ceiling greets his vision, he rolls over to grunt into his pillow. maybe he shouldn’t sleep at all. he checks the clock. fifteen minutes past eight in the morning. did he honestly just sleep barely under an hour? experiencing mild pangs of self-hate, he sits up, frowning against the light that sifts through his curtains.
what had happened in his dream again?
he pulls on some socks and pulls off his boxers, poking about in his drawers for a clean pair.
everybody on fire, that’s right. a great big statue, everyone inside it. and one of them had thrown a lighter across the room. someone had lit it. and they were all vulnerable, made of paper.
yifan stops and blinks, hands gripping the handle of the second drawer.
made of paper. his world’s people were made of paper. faceless, mindless, fleshless. but they had minds. they had to have had minds. why? he exhales, sweat dripping down his shoulder blades and sticking his shirt to his back.
because there had been chaos. and chaos? chaos is only possible if someone’s there, ready to receive it. to channel it. unconscious or conscious, there had to be brains in those people. personalities.
he’d watched, helplessly, as a few of them had tried to stop the rest, had bent over backwards and melted, submitting to the flames. but the others -- all the others had killed themselves and each other freely, thoughtlessly, purposely.
yifan hadn’t been able to be of any use -- just like they had passed through him, his hand had passed through their arms, their hands, their heads. he couldn’t do a thing. and their fire couldn’t hurt him, so he alone stood through it all, frozen in shock, until glass floors and ceilings dripped cold white and angry black, the steel walls shivering in heat haze. only the stairs withstood change; and with the world squelching around him, there was nowhere else to go, nothing else for him to do but climb them.
they lead to the top, to the head of the statue. he stood up through the hole in the roof, saw the city laid out in full splendor, not a single soul in sight. and when he let go of the bannister attached to the last step, the city melted, like in his other city dreams. the buildings, the streets, the raw, hard sky. the statue itself shrieked to its demolition, and yifan had closed his eyes calmly, waiting for the inevitable fall, the waking.
but when his eyes opened--
yifan makes his way back to the bed and sits there, head in his hands. he doesn’t want to remember what happened next. because when his eyes opened, he hadn’t woken up just then. he’d looked on something else. and he doesn’t need to think about that. he doesn’t need to think about that. he needs to write. he looks at the clock: 8.23 a.m. he’s wasted eight minutes already, and he still needs a new pair of boxers.
yixing knocks again at seven minutes past three in the afternoon, but the door’s unlocked and open a crack, so it swings ajar. “i’m back,” yixing says, tentatively.
yifan looks up tiredly. he’s trying to use one of the mind-mapping apps on google docs and waiting for baekhyun to turn up on the chat like he’d said he would, but he’s getting a steady, pounding headache from the heavy silence and fluorescent screen. baekhyun should have come online twenty minutes ago.
“hey,” he croaks. “welcome back.”
yifan makes a noncommittal noise, and yixing drums his fingers against the doorframe. the sound is a relief but also a bit unnerving. “i think i’ll cancel the going back out part,” yixing informs him. “but it’s my turn for the groceries today, you want anything? waffles again?”
honestly speaking, yifan has had it up to his throat with those waffles. if he keeps eating them, he’ll throw them up and experience pregnancy symptoms or something -- he knows from experience. he needs phases of overwhelming snacking on a new snack every week or two, when he’s writing. only the emergency ice cream stash is allowed. and sehun’s finished it this month before yifan had a chance to taste.
“not the waffles,” yifan shakes his head distractedly.
yixing tilts his head to the side. “then?”
well, he has no idea! he hasn’t gone to the grocers in ages, and he feels like a caveman. or house-arrested. “pick something you like,” yifan runs a hand through his hair in frustration. his mind’s still stuck on the dream, and this goddamn fictitious trek he’s decided to focus on. maybe he should kill everybody in the story off, as revenge for giving him endless migraines. he stares at the screen.
yixing taps on the doorframe again, so yifan is startled into adding, vaguely, “something i probably haven’t had before?”
he’s still staring at the screen a minute later, and when he looks up, yixing’s gone. yifan blinks at the empty doorway, worrying his lower lip. he feels a tiny bit regretful, though he’s not sure why.
letting his head fall back against the headboard, he considers sending a text to baekhyun.
3.11 p.m. hop off my dick bro
3.11 p.m. ????? we r friends???
3.11 p.m. oh. its u
3.12 p.m. ok u can stay
3.13 p.m. get a pet dog 4 tht
3.13 p.m. so the story is going at an alright pace
3.14 p.m. but i hate it
3.14 p.m. yeh?
3.15 p.m. yeah
3.15 p.m. oh and y arent u on the gdoc
3.15 p.m. u were supposed 2 help me thru my 1st time
3.16 p.m. ????
3.17 p.m. fck u i have an actual face to suck
yifan feels a slight pang of rage.
3.18 p.m. u makin out w someone
3.19 p.m. u DIDNT EVEN TELL ME
3.20 p.m. thats tru
3.21 p.m. it happnd kinda suddnly?? in my defense
3.21 p.m. ++ was hot
3.21 p.m. im only human
yifan feels the rage slide away. that was an excusable situation.
3.22 p.m. u tell me next time tho ok
3.25 p.m. will try
3.25 p.m. (jst xx’d again)
yifan is left grinning at his phone incredulously, unsure of what he’s incredulous about. it could be the fact that baekhyun, his best friend with the sexual appeal of a manx cat, is capable of being made out with -- is currently making out -- or that he actually abbreviated ‘making out’to ‘xx’. probably both.
yixing finds him eight minutes later, still giggling. “uh,” he waves a packet of stuff. “hi again?”
yifan looks up at once, and the sudden movement makes him nauseous but he’s rather excited about yixing’s mysterious choice. “what is it?”
yifan grabs it easily, pleased with the impressed look on yixing’s face. then he looks at the label. “croutons?” he reads out, slowly. “those dried bread things you put in soup?”
yixing shrugs. “they go well plain, too. if you microwave them in a bowl with half a teaspoon of water, they can get soft and chewable.”
half an hour afterwards, yifan’s finished his packet and sehun’s in one go. he’s about to burp happily before he realizes it would stink of garlic and yixing’s right in his face, kind of. so he doesn’t. but he’s still very happy. “thanks, okay,” he says, seriously. “this is amazing.”
it’s gotten so that sometimes yifan leaves his room, armed with laptop, charger and a bowl of croutons (this takes two trips), to huddle over on the bed opposite yixing’s, or yixing wanders into his room and reads his books -- “may i?” he’d asked, the first time, and yifan had wanted to shake him for even bothering with the question. “you can read anything you want, okay.” -- occasionally reading aloud from them, or scribbling down the parts he likes most on small chits of paper.
one day, yixing reads out something from rumi. "you are so weak, give up to grace. the ocean takes care of each wave, 'til it gets to shore. you need more help than you know." a shiver crawls up yifan, from his spine to his ribs. it feels almost as if yixing is reading it out on purpose, specifically to him. for him. yixing sends him a smile, and yifan musters one back.
did he need more help than he knew?
many, many hours later, at some ungodly hour in the morning, yixing hands him a dark red pick and clears his throat, wiggling in his seat a bit before taking a breath. he looks a bit nervous as he tightens the strings, tuning them up carefully. yifan can’t believe yixing is finally, finally trusting him with this. “you have anything specific in mind?” yixing asks, taking the pick from his open palm, and yifan hunches his shoulders into the fleeting, comforting feeling.
“you mean, to play?” he really can’t believe this.
“yeah, of course.”
yifan frowns at yixing’s wrist. it looks vaguely familiar, like he’s seen it before -- just the wrist, encircled by a similar bracelet, but somewhere else. in a photo, perhaps. but then yixing’s hand moves, trying out a few notes before relaxing, and yifan drags his attention back to the present. “anything you want,” yifan grins. “i have no idea.”
so yixing bites his lip, furrowing his brow in thought before he begins.
“close your eyes,” yixing whispers through it, so yifan does that. he leans his head back against the windowsill, closes his eyes. it starts out soft, low. and through the soft bluish white of the moonlight drenching over his eyelids, he sees colored smoke and little silver stars. purple tendrils, sparks of orange and crimson flames.
his eyes burst open and yixing keeps playing. the colors stay. the flames recede. the notes are melding together faster, and yifan swears he can see green and lilac curling over his fingertips, sees the sky outside kindle with a stubborn, dull blue flame. it’s haunting and alive, what yixing’s playing. persephone would dance, he thinks, and the trees that line the boulevards below sway drunkenly in the breeze.
yixing stops, for a second, two seconds, three seconds, and yifan can almost hear the pulse tick in his neck amidst the quiet, and at the fifth second yixing starts again, plucking the strings at first, then sinking back into the melody.
yifan turns around to look at him; he’s bent over the guitar, hair hiding his face, foot tapping, head bobbing along. and again, just like he’d felt like he’d seen a new person when yixing had told him about wanting to do music, he sees a new person now.
when the notes race up fast together, yixing frowns intently, worrying his lip as he makes sure he plays just right. the tendrils seem to seep up through the floor and grow around their feet, curling in, curling out, thorny vines catching onto their knees, and yifan feels washed over and small and somewhere familiar and old. he closes his eyes and he sees another room, another doorway. light falls on him from another window. the image of yixing playing in front of him stays, but there is also someone else in the room. she has a brown apron on and smells of bread and apples, and yifan lets his chin sink into his chest. allows, for one moment, his shoulders to heave and lungs to stutter.
and then he opens his eyes to see the petals and leaves fading as yixing’s playing slows, fading as the final arpeggio fades.
“thank you,” yifan whispers, and yixing slumps over the guitar, glancing at him through his bangs.
yixing takes his guitar out whenever he can, now.
in the afternoon, he starts up and sehun subsides with his grumbling about some chore or other, and yifan secretly thinks yixing does it on purpose. once he tries a different guitar, (“that’s definitely electric,” sehun breathes) but he only does a short, hair-rising riff before huffing loudly in frustration and setting it aside. late at night, with sehun probably drunk and in someone else’s apartment, yifan hears him tuning up, clearing his throat and beginning to play. it makes him smile as he types.
the story’s coming along well these days, and he might even deserve a few hours’ break sometime soon.
2.06 p.m. we goin out
2.06 p.m. we now boyfies
2.07 p.m. FCK
2.07 p.m. WATS WRONG WTIH U THESE DAYS
2.07 p.m. ALL THESE ATROCIOUS ABBREVIATIONS
2.08 p.m. ITS LIKE UR A DIFF PERSON
2.09 p.m. i am
2.09 p.m. my xx techniques are much better
2.10 p.m. would offer demo but ;-)
2.11 p.m. ugh go away i cant believe u
2.11 p.m. frst xx n now BOYFIE
2.12 p.m. btw give pics
2.12 p.m. wanna see how hot
yifan’s just teasing, of course, but when he actually downloads the file three minutes later, his jaw literally drops. first off, that guy is definitely chinese. which is a bit of an insult because baekhyun’d said he was only interested in cute guys from busan or some shit. second, that guy is definitely hot. third, that guy is kind of like the bishounen sehun constantly worships in his mangas.
2.18 p.m. bishounen boyfie frm beijing
2.18 p.m. hell yea bro
2.19 p.m. meanwhile u single
2.19 p.m. HA
2.20 p.m. i’ll get hitched before u
2.21 p.m. ye but
2.21 p.m. they gon back out last min
2.22 p.m. alliteration aint abt 2 help u then
2.22 p.m. HA
yixing coaxes him to come outside two days later. “you need a little time to stop and think,” he insists, grabbing hold of yifan’s wrist and pulling with surprising strength. the guitar case strapped to his shoulder bobs against yifan’s knee. “yifan-- ge!-- come on.” yifan blinks at the honorary, one he’d almost forgotten, one that makes him remember of other times. it makes him quietly follow yixing out the door.
they walk over to the park that’s five blocks down from their apartment building, and only then does yixing let go of his hand. yifan brings up his own hand to absently rub at his wrist, where warm, slim fingers had just wrapped tightly around.
“so, now that i’ve gotten you out of the depths of darkness! how’s your stuff going?” yixing asks, cheerfully, and yifan chuckles.
“perhaps if you’d be a bit more specific,” he pokes yixing’s elbow, clumsily, and yixing looks delighted.
“are you quoting me?”
“a little,” yifan admits, then flushes.
“well,” yixing seems very pleased. “so how is your stuff going?”
yifan tells him: he’s on his twelfth chapter. he’s almost going at a chapter a day, and considering they have -- he has, he corrects himself hurriedly -- two weeks, that’s not too bad. there are twenty chapters in all, plus a short epilogue, so he might even be able to submit it before the deadline. for once. and he’s excited, right now, because kangjun -- that’s the protagonist -- is finally plucking up some spirit and he’s going to walk, knowingly, into the enemy’s ambush and--
“wait wait,” yixing pants, jogging to keep up with yifan’s strides. “enemy’s ambush? are you writing a war story?”
it makes yifan stutter because he’s taken having yixing around for granted so much that he’d forgotten that he’s never properly told yixing anything about his plot at all. even sehun knows a bit, from hanging around with baekhyun on wednesday ‘cousin meetups’ (baekhyun receives updates and phone calls at stupid o’clock in the morning from yifan about new developments.)
“it’s the cold war,” yifan fiddles with his fingers. “kangjun is on an espionage mission. the first few chapters, the ones i’d finished when you were around, you know,” he feels a needle-ish prick of unease on his back, mentioning it, “those were just to get a childhood picture of him. give the reader time to see him in okay surroundings, then not okay ones, and then experience first hand his motive for what goes on later.”
“oh, so something terrible happens in the first few chapters?”
yixing’s not just keeping up now, he’s gaining a bit on yifan, trying to lead them somewhere. as usual, yifan follows.
“uh, yeah,” he says, a bit uneasy and embarrassed. he supposes it’s rather the typical plot, if one’s seen enough action movies and read enough war novels. “you need someone rooting for your protagonist from the start, right? motivation comes in early.”
“that’s true,” yixing adds a hum in agreement, and sits down on the bench in front. he pats the space next to him. “sit.”
yifan perches precariously at the edge of the bench, then thinks it over and sits properly. “well,” he steals a glance at yixing.
“well!” yixing stretches, letting out a small squeal before leaning back. “what’s the terrible thing that happens?”
so yifan tells him, about how kangjun was born into war, born into ambushes, splattered blood stains on walls, bombardments, limbs strewn across the street, shell-shocks, basement shelters. tells yixing about kangjun’s mother, kangjun’s classmates, his favorite sweater and how he hates cold cereal and the yellow grass that used to fascinate him as a child, growing stubbornly, on the other side of the border. kangjun’s fear of water after his house ripped apart in the july heat and summer rain, typhoon thelma, nineteen eighty seven. seven years old, and then nine when typhoon judy struck, in eighty nine.
“he’s real,” yixing whispers, when yifan breaks off in the middle, for breath.
“everything’s real, ”yifan shakes his head. “i can write this and this can be fictitious and someone can read it and finish it and put it down, have an experience and say ‘oh, that was interesting’-- if i write it well enough, of course -- but it really happened. i may have thought of it out of the blue, swimming at some pool party last year and then forgotten about it the next day until a few weeks ago, but it happened, yixing. not to kangjun, but to someone else. maybe a yuri, maybe a jeongmin. but someone experienced that, someone has already experienced everything i’ve thought of, to some extent, more or less.”
yixing is very quiet, and yifan has wanted to tell someone about this for so long, this strong belief he has, and he goes on. “human lives are just so. people say just about anything can happen, but if you sit down, you can guess what. there’re supposedly infinite possibilities, right? but that’s only because that person’s so caught up in the current that they can barely see what’s in front of their nose. but what i’m,” he takes a breath, hand coming up to run through his hair. he’s frustrated; now that he gets to say what he can, he can’t word it the right way. but yixing is still looking at him, intent, turned to face him properly, arm slung on the back of the bench. so he tries again. “what i’m trying to say is, if someone can think of it, then it’s possible. if someone thinks something about time gone, there’s definitely someone there in some unwritten page of history, acting out in his present what’s the other person’s past.
“and what i mean is, the world is huge, but life and people, they’re small. everything i think is possible, has to have happened. if you get an idea, at least a thousand other people have had it, right? and if all those people have had it, then at least one has to have lived through that. if i can be inspired to think of something, what could i be inspired from? i pluck thoughts from life, and life is the same to everybody: it’s everything. if i borrow from life, then life has had to have given more of it to someone else, that’s…that’s what i think. i think.” yifan laughs nervously. “okay, that sounds pretty ridiculous, maybe i’ll explain it better another time--”
“no, no,” yixing frowns, resting his head on his arm, “it was pretty good. i almost get what you mean. i think i get what you mean.“
they stay silent for a while.
“well, anyway,” yifan waves his hand, chewing his lip, “i see you brought your guitar.”
not that it’s an uneasy quiet, but he doesn’t want some lingering echo of his words in the air, and also he wants to hear yixing play. he doesn’t think he can get enough of yixing’s music, the utter concentration he pours into playing. it makes yixing someone else, and yet solely himself. he’s fascinating.
“oh, the guitar,” yixing blinks, and sits up. “yeah, i brought it.” he turns and makes to unzip the case, then throws a glance over his shoulder. “you sure you want to hear me play?”
yifan could thunk his head dully against the bench in expaseration. “of course i do!”
carefully, yixing unzips it and lifts it up, cradles the neck and brings his right hand up, fingers flitting over the fretboard, ever nervous, before he straightens his back, then bends over, and begins.
yifan is used to the sound of yixing’s guitar, but when yixing’s voice mixes with the strings’ he jolts up, electrified. he’s never heard yixing sing before. and the language is something from the mists of his memory, something parting through from years gone unused, unheard.
it’s cantonese, and he narrows his eyes, bits of lyrics falling into place.
and as the drops fall in the ocean,
i stand, i stand, waiting to drown
to take my salvation.
yifan sees the colors in the park brighter than he’s ever seen them before, sees the green stand up and quiver in the leaves, the brown of the tree trunks mutedly give way to the red flowers and blue irises. the fountain water leaps up and sparkles...
take my salvation, here is my adoration
for you and not for you.
...touches the sunlight and turns gold, silver, mercury, falls back. yifan feels the heat on his back from the sun, looks up to greet a blinding white disc in a peacock blue sky.
the waves crash down with the weight of the rays and rain thrown heedlessly
-- what a careless sun, what ruthless clouds --
and i kneel, for you and not for you,
on the edge of the deeps,
waiting to drown.
yifan can see the waves in the sky, the rift in the clouds where a small boy stands, waiting to fall. yifan sees colors, feels fire crackling under his skin.
what a careless brother,
what a careless love
my adoration is for you.
yifan feels his breath catch, blinks and looks to the ground. yixing’s voice bleeds into his ears, smooth and light, threading through his thoughts and tightening around them painfully.
give me my salvation
so i can kneel and count the shells
while i wait to drown.
yifan swears he has never seen colors so bright and pure, so painfully honest.
5.07 p.m. well thnx a lot
5.07 p.m. is this whr i bat my voluptuous lashes
5.08 p.m. ugh u shit
he’s sitting on a chair in a room with a tv screen, walls bathed in green light. the screen in front shows blue stripes, and he hears a sigh to his left. he turns his head, sees red gold and red string and rubies clinging to a thin wrist, a prince’s wrist. his eyes travel up, and he is going to see the face. he is going to see a face, he knows, this time, that this person will have expressions, will have features. this person will —
yifan jolts awake with a snort. there’s drool on his mousepad and a loud whooping in the background somewhere. yixing and baekhyun are standing in the doorway, grinning ear to ear. and he dreamt something in almost full color. wait, what?
yifan squints at the people in the doorway. “you two know each other?” he mumbles, and that seems to make them realize they’re actually standing next to each other. they turn around with wide eyes and jump two feet apart, bowing profusely. it’s kind of adorable, but mostly dumb.
“yixing, baekhyun, baekhyun, yixing,” he rasps, rolling off his bed and tumbling to the floor. then he recognizes the whooping. “is sehun’s hockey team winning or has a pregnancy test come out negative?”
yixing shakes his head, confused, but baekhyun just snickers appreciatively and steps out. “just come in the living room.”
yixing, left behind, widens his eyes. “is he seeing someone?” he whispers, and, yifan can only laugh soundlessly, head hitting his drawer handles multiple times.
“he’s seeing,” he finally manages, breathless, “he’s seeing a lot of people.”
sehun is dancing on the sofas, crouton crumbs all over his shirt, when yifan finally shuffles in. “get off my furniture,” he snaps at once, but sehun pays no heed. he’s saying something over and over again under his breath.
“what’s he saying,” yifan mutters to baekhyun, used to this behavior.
“he’s saying he’s gotten on the dean’s list, plus full marks on that microeconomics exam of his,” baekhyun informs him proudly, arms folded over his chest.
“holy shit. sehun?” yifan whirls around. “OH SEHUN?”
sehun lands on the floor in front of him, grinning, arms wide open. “come to daddy,” he wiggles his eyebrows.
“little shit,” yifan pulls him in for a hug, laughing into sehun’s hair. “i can’t believe you did it, i can’t believe you did it.”
“hey,” sehun’s hand comes up to pat his ear. “have some faith in me, man. i’m not that bad.”
“shut up,” yifan pulls him away to stare at him. “dean’s list. full marks? i’m not dreaming?”
baekhyun leans over to pinch his arm.
“nah,” he says, smug, when yifan gives a pained shriek.
yixing throws some more croutons in the air.
yixing leaves in the middle of the night, and it’s funny how of all the nights yifan had had to not stay up through, it was that one. sehun keeps telling him that it isn’t such a big deal, that yixing left a note on the fridge saying he’ll be back in a few days, within the week at most -- and yifan tries, he really does. he writes and writes and smokes and writes and almost sets fire to his ice cream (he’s not sure how), and writes, and writes, and then he gives writing a pause.
when death’s lips left mine
he’s stuck. not another word refuses to be set down.
“i can’t,” yifan groans, wincing at how loud his voice sounds, and sehun gives him a final shove before grunting and giving up. “the hell is wrong with you, hyung?”
yifan can’t stand, can’t move. he’s tried, but it made him feel like throwing up, and he doesn’t want that to happen so he’s not going to budge.
the only word that’s making it through his head, right now, is yixing and he’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound familiar. if it doesn’t feel like an old favorite shirt or like holding an orange guitar. wait, orange guitar?
someone’s dragging him, pulling his arm around their neck uncomfortable and cursing at how they’re missing out on some date or other, and suddenly yifan can’t take it. yifan’s had enough of stepping on someone, of ignoring someone else’s needs, of being more an obstacle than a support, and with the last ounce of strength he doesn’t know he had, he retrieves his arm and stumbles by himself against the wall. he can’t do anything against this wall, so he slides against it, feels something give way, spark feebly before going out. the next thing he knows, he’s lying on the floor, huddled towards the wall. someone is cursing even more now, and there are warm hands over his chest, but not warm enough, not warm enough, and he’s being turned over and someone’s saying i’m sorry and i love you, okay, don’t be an idiot, sorry for being a jerk and he doesn’t deserve apologies so he tries to fold in on himself further but those hands have gotten a firm grip on him and he’s dragged, again.
his head hits the bedframe, sorry, man, his knees hit the bedpost somehow, sorry sorry! jeez, so sorry, and he’s finally fully assembled onto the mattress. his head’s pulled up and someone stuffs a pillow underneath it. sorry. sleep tight, okay?
yifan doesn’t know what to do. he gets draped over in a blanket before the door closes, and he doesn’t bother opening his eyes to stare at the floor. no, wait, not the floor. the ceiling. to stare at the ceiling. he doesn’t bother with that.
there’s nothing against his eyelids, no red light, no white or yellow light. there’s no sound in the room, save for his ragged breathing and occasional groans. he’s trying to stop them but they come out and he doesn’t know how. he doesn’t know a lot of things. does he know anything? he knows a song. he knows a song.
he knows a song that would make persephone dance. and it plays through his head on cue. on cue, on cue, a throat clearing, the strings tuning, a strumming, fretting, change in notes. a melody. nothing against his eyelids but he sees the tendrils climb. over the black backdrop of his mind, he sees the trees sway. he sees a wrist with a bracelet.
how much time?
the answer is coming. the answer is coming.
he wakes up, and for once he doesn’t remember what he dreamt. and it’s not him blocking out a memory, this time; he can’t remember a damned thing. the absence of memories that should be there are ringing in his mind. what had he dreamt? what had he dreamt?
there is only one pounding thought in his head, again, and this time he can attach something to it. the fact that he remembers something, at least, is a relief. yixing, he thinks, and it’s not just familiar, not just warm, not just thick and clinging like a loving winter mist. yixing is a person. yixing is an important person. someone who listens and speaks back, who mostly understands and tries his best to try when he can’t, who plays guitar and cooks fantastic, smiles like a child and has his own dreams. yixing, like tendrils, like smoke. yixing, folded crane within the folded crane, always just as full as what’s left behind. yixing is a very solid, real person. yixing, who isn’t here.
he’s sitting against the kitchen counter, on the floor, knees against his chest, chest heaving for breath. he feels like a hangover and he is hungover and he wants a jacket over his eyes.
he tilts his head, and he can see the door to sehun and yixing’s room wide open. yixing is gone and sehun isn’t snoring there, either. it’s two in the afternoon, he’s probably in a class.
yifan reaches for his pocket, draws out his phone. dials speed dial one. baekhyun picks up after two rings. “i feel like a hangover,” he mumbles into it, and he hears a rush of static as baekhyun sighs. “i’m coming, wait a bit.”
the soup is good but it’s cabbage and mutton and doesn’t taste the same, and baekhyun is comfortable but he isn’t quiet. he keeps pushing, keeps pushing, and yifan ends up in front of his laptop, writing the epilogue. it’s something happier than making kangjun realize that the forces had shot his mother the moment he’d entered service. it’s happier than completing the sixteenth chapter.
(it’s happier than thinking of what to write past the phrase when death’s lips left mine.)
and in his mind, the song takes on a darker tinge and the tendrils turn green and wiry, pushing up stubbornly through the keys he’s typing.
after baekhyun makes sure he’s fine by himself, he leaves with a half-hearted glare and a, “take care of yourself, for god’s sake.”
take care of himself. there’s nothing to be guilty about. he keeps typing, scrolls through the file and adds sentences here and there throughout the chapters, begins chapter nineteen instead of finishing the sixteenth, revisits the funeral scene and tastes waffles and emptiness. it’s five in the evening and sehun hasn’t come back. his phone’s beeped countless times with messages but he doesn’t really bother. there’s nothing to be guilty about, and that’s not what the psychiatrist had meant all those years ago when he was nineteen but who in hell gave a crap, right? six years is a long time. he doesn’t remember what he dreamt and he doesn’t want to remember what’s still waiting to be unveiled. when he’d opened his eyes after the statue had fallen.
yifan hits the ctrl and s keys before closing the laptop and lying down, wide awake. he watches the clock blink the hours passing. five p.m. whispers to six p.m. passes onto seven, melts into eight and then nine. yifan’s eyes flutter shut as he tries so hard, so hard to remember.
and then later, much later, he finds himself in a haze as someone pulls him upright, holds his face in their hands.
yifan doesn’t know what to think, shoulders tensing. then that someone sighs and says, “get up,” and yifan cannot go against what that voice is saying, so he gets up, he follows that someone out the door. it’s dark dark dark and it’s probably past midnight and the traffic zips by a few yards away as he straps himself in the car. the car? so long since he’s been in it, almost forgot he’d had one. a ford cortina. what’d sehun said? won’t ever rust.
is this another dream, or are they actually driving? whatever it is, yifan isn't behind the steering wheel. not today.
they flit through underpasses and over highways, windows down. yifan feels himself rouse, slowly, with the cold wind. yixing’s face lights up and fades continuously as they travel down the brightly lit streets. “hello,” yifan says, and he feels so tired. “where are we going?”
he doesn’t need to know, but he doesn’t want to think. he needs to talk. needs someone to talk.
“quiet,” yixing replies, places a hand on his thigh for a moment before pulling at the clutch and shifting gear.
yifan feels the imprint burn, and stares out the window. quiet, then. he concentrates on the sound of everything falling past as the road is swallowed under them and the trees, moon-drunk (the night’s brighter now that the clouds have drifted), sway and bend over. they drive for so long that the the sceneries melt together into a soft bokeh blur, and he loses track of time and place.
when yixing finally stops the car, yifan can hardly believe his eyes. white sand and white water spread out before them. he sits and grips the dashboard, staring over to the ocean. he only remembers to move after yixing’s left the car, opened his door and clicked open the seat belt. shakily, yifan steps out.
the waves draw him closer, their scent stripping him raw. so many other times he’d been here, somewhere like here, a beach, the sand, the open, open water. pictures of bare feet and pants rolled up.
“is this because i need more help than i know, yixing?” he’s kneeling down on the sand, watching the waves unfurl and lap at the shore, rise up gently and kiss his knees. “is it?” the water is glistening green and silver in the moonlight, and yixing stands, inches away.
“no,” his voice carries down to yifan, light, airy. “it’s the story. for kangjun.”
that’s right. he’s stuck with kangjun. what are you supposed to do when death’s lips leave yours? yifan knows what kangjun is supposed to do, but he refuses it. he refuses it. what had happened when the glass had melted and the steel had shook? he refuses it.
there’s a hand on his shoulder, weighing down. “what are you thinking?” yixing whispers, close. so close. yifan’s fingers dig into the sand.
for you, not for you.
“i’m trying to remember,” he chokes out, and the hand moves over to his own hand, closes over it.
yifan closes his eyes.
he opens his eyes, and the city is gone. well, of course he’d expected that. but he isn’t in a vast arena, something devastated or shell-shocked. he’s in a large, gleaming room. there is a steady beeping from a machine, walls and floor sternly clinical and white.
in the middle, up against one of the walls, is a bed. a form on the bed. he doesn’t look. he does not look because he doesn’t want to look because he knows what -- who -- is there. there is a chair at the foot of the bed. so he fixes his gaze at its foot, walks towards it, takes a seat.
then stares at his hands and waits. there is one thought in his mind. how much time? how much time? how much time? how much time? how much time? how much time? how much time? how much time? how mu--
a door slides open.
funny, he hadn’t seen a door when he’d looked around first. then again, he hadn’t looked around properly. this is a dream of a memory. in the dream, and in the memory of this dream, yifan winces. so many things, so many things he could have done, so many things he shouldn’t have.
“lia jheng kevin?”
“yixing,” yifan breathes. “i don’t have to, do i?”
the only reply is a slight pressure on his wrist.
the answer is coming.
the boy whose name is kevin stands up, something sinking inside his ribs.
yifan begins to shake. it’s cold. it’s very cold.
the answer is coming.
“as of now, your mother’s reports…all positive.”
the boy whose name is kevin waits, tense and silent. his face shows no emotion. mama, asleep on the bed, gives a sigh. the doctor waits for him to react, but yifan won’t give him that satisfaction. who do these people think they are? how dare these people --
“how much time?” the doctor prompts him, then shrugs and continues on himself.
“i would say seven months, give or take a few weeks. we’ve done our calculations, done the best we possibly could have. but it’s spread to her brain, now. it’s not very regular for this to happen, but it can occur occasionally.”
the boy whose name is kevin sits back down.
“even surgery wouldn’t help at this point. a month from now she’ll be suffering from ataxia and perhaps behavioral changes. vertigo. definitely seizures. to help with this, we’ll be…"
the boy whose name is kevin tunes the clear voice and its hateful, precise pronunciation out.
yifan sits back, staring dully at the waves. “this isn’t even about my mother dying,” he says, eventually. “this is about me, as egotistical as it sounds.” he lets out a dry laugh, and draws with his finger in the sand. “what i could have done, what i didn’t do.”
the boy whose name is now yifan looks up from his pillow, blearily.
she looks at him with a soft smile. “oh, good. there you are. i was wondering where you’d gone.”
yifan avoids looking at her.
“you being here means so much to me, háizi. you know, lately, i’ve been almost falling everywhere. the other day i almost fell down the stairs. i’m beginning to be afraid, to be honest. imagine having a little while to live and even that gets cut short because you’re silly enough to fall down some stairs!” she laughs, but it trembles, and as much as yifan wants to reach out and hold her hand, he doesn’t. he was never one for reaching out. the laugh turns into a cough, and he sits up at once, goes to the kitchen to get her the usual tea and tissues.
“thank you, qī'ài,” even her smile is shaking, and he looks away. hesitantly, he places a hand on her head, strokes the bare skin a moment before moving away, back to his bed.
“what i could have done,” yifan repeats, biting his lip, and the waves ripple out in a hushed roar.
yixing’s knuckles brush his, and yifan stares out to the inky horizon. he was never one to reach out.
but he reaches out, holds yixing’s wrist this time, and they sit, still, until the sun begins to rise, water beating a tattoo of endlessness, a dream of forever.
the drive back is noisy, other cars gunning closer with puttering engines and fancy wheels. yixing’s hand rests on his arm at the red lights.
“i’m sorry for leaving like that,” yixing says, eyes on the road, and yifan tries to sink further into the seat, tries to feel like he deserves an apology, but it doesn’t work.
“i’m sorry, too.”
when someone’s lips leave yours, you think immediately of what you have done. sometimes, of what you could have done. death is just another person. she is no exception.
yifan finishes the sixteenth chapter, sends it over. baekhyun calls him up on skype an hour later, eyes puffy, nose red. “fuck you,” he says, thickly. “that was amazing.”
there is a young boy sitting at a bench, eyes contemplative as he regards the window in front of him. yifan turns to look at it, immediately squints at the blinding white light attacking his senses. he raises a hand over his eyes, and the boy gives a delighted laugh, so familiar and carefree. yifan is drawn to it, to it him. there’s a beautiful curve in his right cheek, and a matching dimple in his left, only more sleepy.
yixing reaches forward to the table across him, moves a glass prism towards the window.
the next thing he knows, the room is bathed in colors. red, green, blue, primary colors overlapping in kisses to melt into lighter shades, darker shades; yellow, orange, purple, indigo, cyan -- the room is painted over with light, with colors.
for once, he just sees innocent, pure colors. yifan is drenched in them, and maybe now, now it isn't so bad. his hands are shaking, but it isn't so bad.
yixing turns to look at him, eyes widen with recognition. he spreads his arms and runs towards yifan, wrapping them around his back. yifan is shaking, there are tears in his eyes, but it isn’t so bad.
yifan’s dreams are almost always of himself, wandering and alone. that’s the way they have been since he can remember. and his mind is sharpening, now, with each word he types. new memories resurface the further he wades through his mind for adjectives and the right words to say. to say. to write.
what’s different is how, now, he can remember dreams with color, from a long, long time ago.
a boy dancing on the wind, a girl painting seashells in a cabin. little people -- yifan sits up, laptop sliding off. little people.
“i guess mama has cancer,” she tells him, voice barely audible from all her coughing.
and he hadn’t known, of course. “what’s cancer, mama?”
she coughs again, reaches for water. ten years old, he rushes forward and gets it for her. she ruffles his hair in thanks.
“ah, little people. you know how sometimes people in the world can get angry and fight? well, i have little people inside me, working hard so i can be strong. but some of them are tired, now. they’re starting to fight.”
and he hadn’t even realized the gravity then. “so you have cancer?”
“yes,” she gives a small laugh. “so i have cancer.”
he sits down next to her, confused. gives her a hug. “what does it feel like, mama?”
she’s silent, just running her hands through his hair. after a while, she sighs. “it’s like they’re trying to set me on fire, qī'ài.”
his eyes widen, and he doesn’t know what to say. so he tightens his arms around her middle, squashes his face in her side.
“it’ll be okay,” she whispers. “mama was silly to tell you. it’ll be okay.”
and he hadn’t known.
little people. he’d dreamt that, before. the little people, in the statue.
yifan stares at the screen. baekhyun doesn’t reply.
he doesn’t need to type in the epilogue when he finally reaches the end of chapter twenty two (he’d ended up adding two chapters’ worth of fillers, on sehun’s suggestion), but he does revise it, fixes his typos and adds another sentence in the middle.
he sits and stares at it for a few seconds, before saving it and shutting down the computer at once.
04.56 p.m. kill me
04.56 p.m. will b sending u
04.56 p.m. complete draft in a few hrs
04.57 p.m. ???? u always say tht n then take three days =.=
yifan grins down proudly at the phone screen.
04.58 p.m. ye? nt this time
04.58 p.m. this time im informin u
04.59 p.m. AFTER im finished
05.00 p.m. i just hate it rn
05.00 p.m. so dont want to touch for a while
05.01 p.m. for tellin u AFTER i xx’d my boyfie
yifan shakes his head, still grinning, and pockets the phone.
the next week yifan barely eats, barely sleeps, barely blinks. the only thought in his head is that he hates himself, and apart from that the only thought in his head is that yixing is amazing, and apart from that the only thought in his head is what mama would think, and although his head is convoluted he still recognizes an inconsistency in his thought process, but he’s just dragged himself through two and forty nine thousand words of espionage garbage, so he can’t bother himself to find out.
baekhyun proofreads his work, yixing tries to make him eat, sehun forces him to watch more hockey than should be humanly possible, and by tuesday, he has his answer in his email.
Dear Mr. Wu Yifan,
yifan doesn’t bother reading properly, just skims and lets words jump out at him. honor and pleasure... draft has been accepted... editor will be in touch... process…once again…honor... look forward... publish your work…
publish your work.
his yell has yixing bowling over the bathroom door and skidding into the room, sehun not far behind.
he shoves the laptop towards them. it almost falls off the bed.
as they sit and stare in shock, then stand and stare in shock, then pound his back in shock, he sits, quietly, in a daze.
i did it. i did it one more time. would you be smiling?
“sehun,” yifan drawls, smoke eking out his mouth.
sehun takes a puff, winces. “hmm.”
“what’d you say about my ford again? when i first got it.”
sehun lets out a hoot. “i sang an arctic monkey song, stripped to my boxers and danced on the bonnet.”
yixing raises his eyebrows, slouched over in his corner, and lets out a giggle. “seriously?”
“ah, yixing,” sehun leans back, raising his legs against the wall. “there is much to know about me.”
“which arctic monkey song,” yifan insists, eyes weighing down. “i think the lyrics were nice but your ass was distracting.”
“why are we talking about my assets in past tense?” sehun lifts his butt off the floor and wiggles it. “it’s still distracting. you could be eighty and married with five grandchildren and it’d be the most beautifully distracting rear end on the planet.”
“what was the song,” yifan grunts, yixing laughing ‘til he cries.
“oh, god,” sehun lets his legs drop and turns onto his stomach. “something about vaccuum cleaners and coffee pots? or something. yeah. wanna be yours. that was it.”
it is said by the eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the music of the ainur more than in any substance that is in this earth; and many of the children of ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the sea, and yet know not for what they listen. j. r. tolkien, of course. the silmarillion. yifan quotes this thoughtfully, perhaps meaningfully, as they sit, side by side at the kitchen counter at two a.m., legs dangling from the high seats. yixing raises his brows, slightly impressed.
“you're the music you write,” yifan says, abruptly. and yixing lets out a little laugh.
“is that a compliment? my sheets are so basic, yifan, i wouldn't call them music.”
“alive,” yifan shakes his head, insistent, and takes a sip of cold, icy water. it’s so cold it gives him a brainfreeze. tendrils, he remembers. “alive,” he repeats, and yixing just looks at him with a small smile, and yifan finds himself, as ever, smiling back.
you’d like his music, mama. you’d like him.
the president of the publishing company throws a party at baekhyun’s secret (only to yifan) request. not too big, but still grand -- baekhyun’s request, again.
yifan stands in a corner of the bar, rocking backwards on his seat a little. there are small crowds at the tables, women dressed in gaultier -- the knowledgeable bartender points out a rustling silver dress -- and tony yacoub -- the knowledgeable bartender points out another one, rusty and gleaming with rhinestones -- and prabal gurung -- the all-knowing bartender moans at the lilac gown, flaring at the waist with -- okay, yifan doesn’t get any of this stuff. but props to the bartender. “thank you…" he stares at the nametag on his uniform. “thank you, kim minseok,” he says, firmly. “i’ll ask you for more details later.”
kim minseok timidly keeps quiet.
well, there are small crowds at the tables, with women dressed in gaultier, tony yacoub and prabal gurung, and men dressed in, well, pressed black suits. some of them have got gray ones. a few older ones wear mismatched trousers, shirts and coats, but they also have humongous horn-rimmed glasses, so it kind of fits.
to be honest, yifan can’t care less about what people are wearing tonight. he’s just whiling away time, waiting for yixing to arrive. and sehun and baekhyun, of course. he fiddles with his cuffs and asks for some champagne. minseok hands him a full flute in under fifteen seconds, and okay, kim minseok is a pretty good bartender.
he’s leaning into his flute, sniffing at it and processing the fact that perhaps champagne will never stop smelling godawful, when there’s a tap at his shoulder. yifan whirls around and almost upsets his drink on the person in front who -- yifan doesn’t know whether to be disappointed or not -- isn’t yixing.
yifan can’t shake the feeling that he’s seen him before.
“ni hao,” the man inclines his head, respectfully, and when the light from behind the bar reflects into his eyes, yifan suddenly knows who he is.
“ni hao,” yifan smiles, nervously. “i’m baekhyun’s, uh, best friend. i think.”
“lu han,” the other guy says, extending his hand. “you’re wu yifan, author of eighth hour and, as baekhyun says, his platonic soulmate?”
yifan is very pleased with this, and the phrase settles in his stomach like a warm serving of custard. he shakes lu han’s hand, and is about to question, “you’re his boyfriend, right?” at the same time someone walks up to the podium and starts a speech. lu han frowns as soon as the stranger starts talking in an annoyingly high voice. “i don’t do well with speeches. they’re a dreadful bore,” lu han sighs and takes a seat next to yifan’s. “minseok, be a brother, give me something hard.”
minseok looks at him appraisingly. “you get hard stuff at our place every night, what with you having a boyfriend. when are we going to discuss how you dessicated my bed last week. or your own, the week before that? let me guess,” minseok pauses for effect, and lu han has the decency to look embarrassed. “that’s right, never, because you’re either too busy sexting at meetings, or sucking face!”
lu han colors at once. “minseok,” he hisses. “there is an author right in front of you.”
minseok shrugs. “yeah? i just educated this guy on fashion lines. and right now, i’m not talking to him, i’m talking to you. and what i’m saying to you is-- i’m giving you a ninny drink, pink and wishy washy with three umbrellas and a straw. lots of ice cream. i hope there are pictures in the local newspaper tomorrow, president of bookling publishing house caught drinking an embarrassingly womanly drink, subtitled, “i am a man!” he insists. and then everyone photoshops your face onto lingerie models with d-cup boobs, because they have nothing better to do.” he sniffs in disdain. “but good for you, you know.”
lu han groans into his hands. “minseok. please.”
but minseok, yifan learns in awe, is granite. forty eight seconds later, he hands over a glass with, as promised, pink stuff that looks considerably wishy washy. there are three umbrellas, one pink, one yellow, one orange, and raspberry ice cream floats on the top. the straw is white. lu han looks pained as minseok slides it over to him.
“you’re a brother to me,” he repeats, pleading, “i swear.”
“yeah,” minseok nods, “feeling’s mutual.”
meanwhile, the podium guy has been going on and on about publishing and the history of publishing and the beauty of publishing and the ecstasy of publishing and the happiness of publishing and he has now run out of positive adjectives with which to describe publishing, so he calls out, “will the president step up, please!”
lu han groans aloud. “dammit to hell. i wanted a stiff drink, minseok!”
“don’t worry,” minseok pats his hand. “you’re buzzed anyway.”
“how did you--” lu han’s shoulders sag as every individual in the hall claps loudly. yifan joins in, looking around curiously for the president, but lu han is the only one making his way to the podium. that’s strange, almost as if --
“evening, ladies and gentlemen,” lu han puts on an almost entirely convincing, million dollar smile. and he starts talking about the history of publishing and the beauty of publishing, too. yifan frowns and leans towards the bartender, who courteously leans towards him, as well.
“are you saying,” he whispers, confusedly, “that he’s the president of the publishing house?”
“ah,” minseok nods. “won’t catch me saying it in his earshot. but i’m not denying it, either.”
yifan could choke on his breath. he almost does. ever helpful bartender kim minseok clears his throat as he wipes the spotless surface to further levels of spotlessness, and yifan pulls himself together.
“so he published me?”
minseok nods lazily. “’s right. hasn’t read a single word of your book, though.”
oh. yifan feels a tiny bit out of place. “i see.”
“not to worry. baekhyun’s working on it. gets his way with the guy.”
and this is when it properly hits him, that baekhyun is dating. dating the president of the company.
“wow,” he says. “wow.”
“wow,” baekhyun’s voice says from behind him, and yifan almost jumps out of his skin.
“you’re dating a hot president,” yifan states, flatly. “could you bother telling me details?”
“martini,” baekhyun nods in minseok's general direction, then turns to yifan. “nah. it’s more exciting to see you have a heart attack over my infinitely better luck in life.” he downs the glass in a go as soon as minseok hands it over. “especially when it comes to hot bastards.”
yifan tries to sip at his champagne. “don’t. sehun’s been like that ever since my first year in college, and he was a high school kid. i have enough negativity in my life.”
baekhyun hums, staring at the podium and not really listening.
“where’s he, though?” yifan persists.
“in his pants,” he sighs, exasperated, “or over here?”
baekhyun bites back a laugh. “give us a break, you know it’s probably both-- oh,” he adds, raising his brows, “look out. han’s singing your praises.”
and sure enough, lu han’s still smiling, and currently talking about the many wonders and intricate details in eighth hour that have wooed the critics -- “wooed,” baekhyun repeats, dumbly. “did he just say that.” yifan can only blankly stare at lu han’s perfectly gelled up hair -- and woven a spell over tens of thousands of readers -- “told you he was buzzed,” minseok shakes his head. yifan feels a bit offended but lets it pass -- within a week of having been published. “and so, for this month’s bestseller, let’s have the author himself, wu yifan, on stage!” lu han points to him, and all the people present crane their necks around to look.
it’s one of the few times he decides to talk to her, properly, these days. her hands tremble, slightly, as she reads through his submission. “it’s lovely,” she whispers, eyes shining. “and this won first prize?”
yifan nods, smiling slightly.
“i’m so proud of you,” she opens her arms. he leans down, face in her shoulder, and feels her hands pat at his back. “we’re getting ice cream for celebration, okay?”
“my son just won the guangdong writing competition,” his mother calls across to the girl who’s taking their ice cream orders. she squeals in response, hurrying over and handing them their cones, chocolate and strawberry. “congratulations!” she says, clapping her hands, and before yifan knows it, everyone in the stall is clapping their hands and singing happy birthday in confusion, and then the stall down to the right, then to the left, and the customers, too.
“now that was a congratulation ceremony,” she sighs, toeing off her shoes and settling on the one seater. yifan ducks to avoid hitting the doorframe, chucking his own sneakers off. “one day you’ll get a hall and someone will call out your name,” she smiles at him, tired but bright, and he feels something fold up in his chest and sputter. he sits on the bed and smiles at her hands.
the speech he hadn’t prepared tumbles out in stutters and ends very quickly, but everyone gives him a thunderous applause anyway, and he’s very relieved to shake lu han’s hand one more time -- “thank you so much for coming, mr. wu!”-- “ah, i’m honored, i’m honored.”-- to step off quickly and merge at once with the crowd.
a few people come up to him, discuss the plotline, the research, offer invitations to their readings or their addresses for further contact, and soon he’s left alone.
how are you today?
i’m doing good
you were right
a tap on the shoulder.
yifan turns around, expecting another middle-aged man raising his glas--
“hello, little starlet,” yixing tilts his head back to look at him, smiling proudly, and yifan feels his breath catch in his chest because yixing looks like he was made to be under the sparkling lights of the chandelier, looks somehow perfectly in place with his crisp white dress shirt and dark denim jeans, looks so endeared by looking at him.
“hello,” yifan breathes, “little star.”
yixing just shakes his head, dimples showing, and pulls him closer by the lapels, then smoothes them down. “how did it go? i’m sorry i couldn’t arrive earlier-- sehun held me up with his incessant internal struggle of whether or not to invite a zitao.”
yifan feels a little giggle in his ribs. “he wanted to invite zitao? what exactly did he say?”
“he said, ‘he’s super cute but he wants my dick romantically’ a couple hundred times over. i just had to sit around and wait for him to decide.”
yixing’s hands are still resting on his chest, and yifan feels very calm and very hysterical at the same time. “and what’d you say?”
“i said,” hands pull at his lapels again in slight excitement, “i said, ‘there’s no need to be so alarmed, i’m sure he’s as harmless as peaches.’ and i laughed,” he pauses with a triumphant smile as yifan laughs, too, “at my cross-language pun, but he’s ridiculously illiterate in mandarin and didn’t appreciate it.”
“well,” yifan says, very seriously, “i appreciate it.”
“mm,” yixing drops his hands to his sides and turns so he’s standing next to yifan, against the wall. yifan doesn’t know how to feel about this. “thank you for your appreciation. they’re probably in the bathroom stall right now, though. they were in a big hurry since we picked zitao up.”
yifan feels old and sighs.
eventually, they make their way over to the bar again, where minseok’s kept yifan’s flute intact and is currently in the process of giving in and pouring lu han several whiskeys. “thank you,”lu han sobs, downing his fourth, and yixing looks at him with a little anxiety. minseok shakes his head, “i’ve got it. this is normal.”
“what’ll you have?” yifan nudges yixing, and yixing looks at the shelves behind minseok with a start. “i…i’ll have sherry? or vodka. vodka! with, um, lots and lots of sugar.”
minseok turns around from lu han’s pathetic weeping very slowly. “vodka and sugar it is,” he affirms, after staring at yixing for a full minute.
he slides it over after another full minute, and he apologizes for his lack of speed. “not many people ask for extra sugar in their drinks at these parties. i’d forgotten where they keep it.”
yixing accepts it graciously, but yifan’s pretty sure he’d just been slow because he was in shock.
yifan bides his time with yixing, talking about what he’d do on break and agreeing to cleaning his room first thing in the morning the next day. patiently, he answers yixing’s neverending questions and promises that, yes, he’ll give him a signed copy.
it’s when there’s a slight pause in the conversation that he swallows down his whole existence and shoves it under his own feet, clears his throat and says, conversationally, “so, yixing.”
okay no, what’s he doing.
“would you be okay if i asked you out to dinner sometime?”
okay so that’s what he just did. how could he have done that? that is the worst possible way to ask someone out, he should’ve--
“i’d be more than okay,” yixing sounds highly amused and, yifan sneaks a glance, looks very sober. so he’s not intoxicated. that’s a bit relieving, except now yixing has actually said something like a yes which is not only mindblowing but also shock-inducive and yifan is glad he hadn’t been taking a sip; it’s very hard to breathe right now as it is.
“in fact,” yixing turns in his seat and fixes him with an intensely dazzling expression, “i was wondering when you’d get around to it.”
“you were wondering when i’d get around to it,” yifan repeats.
“mhm, was thinking i’d have to ask you out myself.” yixing swishes the remaining droplets around in his shot glass.
“kim minseok,” yifan whispers. “i’ll be needing some vodka.”
he gets a glass shoved in his face and swallows it all at once. once the burning bitterness blows over and his eyes stop watering, he can see everything ten times clearer -- including yixing’s dimples, which can’t possibly be good for his health. does he have a fixation with his dimples? this is probable.
“okay, okay! tell me,” yixing laughs, scooting his seat closer to yifan’s, “is this a spur of the moment thing, or have you thought about it for a while?”
“ah,” yifan chews his lip. “ahem.”
yixing raises an eyebrow. minseok provides them two more glasses. yifan is grateful, takes a meek sip from his. “thought about it for a while? a long while, okay. like, two weeks. and then, like, you disappeared. not that i blame you!” he adds, in a hurry, words tripping over themselves. “i just, somewhere along the way of drinking myself into misery i realized wow, okay, yixing’s amazing. and then you came back-- bam! in the middle of the night! and proved it. that you were amazing. and then baekhyun cried and said ‘fuck you’ to me, to me, so i said to myself, ‘i’ll ask yixing out if it’s a bestseller’,” yifan can’t keep the grin off his face. perhaps he’s a little drunk after a single shot. which is ridiculous, considering he’d written off half the book drunk blind. wait, had he drunk only a single shot? no, he’d had more. good, still not a lightweight. although this thought process is alarming because if he’s had more than one shot then he’s probably--
“and what’d you do if it weren’t?” yixing’s eyes glitter, just shy of dangerous, face so, so close. yifan has to concentrate very hard on the fact that just because yixing’s just said yes doesn’t mean he can do anything right now. he swallows and tries to think of what yixing’s just said. then he tries to think of an answer.
“then i-i’d write something else more worthy of you. not!” he adds, sloshing his vodka over onto his hands and probably his sleeves, “that even this is worthy. but--”
it’s a good thing that yixing kisses him then because he’s not sure what he’d say after ‘but’-- wait. yixing’s kissing him, and he tastes of more vodka, only with sugar, which is strange but not bad, or maybe he’s just hopelessly drunk, or more probably hopelessly in love, or hopelessly whipped, or both or all three, and as his hands fall to yixing’s waist, yixing’s curling around his neck, yifan feels…yifan feels unbelievable. unbelievable and a bit-- a bit deserving.
yixing smiles into his mouth, and yifan, as ever, smiles back.
“peanuts,” baekhyun says, stoically. “this is public, have a care.”
yifan holds up a hand, shoves it in baekhyun’s face.
i mean-- don’t look
i think i love him
“your room’s a mess,” yixing states, flatly, the next day, and yifan has a sinking feeling but also a bubbly one, and it’s with very meek obedience that he follows yixing’s instructions and cooperates with cleaning out his room.
two hours later and they’re almost done, really, everything on the outside looking neat and organized, but yixing’s nothing if not thorough. he’s sorting everything into piles in the drawers. “you need clean undershirts,” he notes, “you don’t have any here.”
yifan squirms from his spot on the bed. discussing underwear is slightly uncomfortable, even if it’s just shirts. sehun’s dirty undershirts all have yellow stains at the armpits from all his sweat. hell, even some of his clean undershirts have those stains. it’s like his sweat is acidic or something, most detergents can’t get the spots off.
he looks up in trepidation when yixing stops scrabbling in the drawers and stands still. “what is it?”
yixing’s staring at a small box in his hands, and yifan feels even more uncomfortable, but oh well, he’d better share this. it’s better than underwear, and a lot more important.
“here, i’ll show you,” he gets on his knees and takes it from yixing’s hands, pulls yixing down to the bed next to him.
it’s a small cardboard box, painted black all over, with a lid that’s a little too big for it. he lifts it up, and yixing gives a small gasp and leans all the way in. yifan blinks at the back of yixing’s head, hovering over the box on his lap.
“notes?” yixing picks one, curious. “may i?”
“you can try reading,” yifan shrugs, “but my handwriting is awful. haven’t met a single person who can decipher it.”
yixing narrows his eyes at the challenge, squints at the napkin. “hey,” he exclaims, “this is. this is familiar! feel like a hangover, you’ve said.” he looks up at yifan with a grin. “have i always been this memorable?”
and yifan wants to laugh, but it tugs at his throat. “i guess,” he manages, ears heating up like a furnace. oh well.
“well,” yixing settles down, comfortable and cross-legged. “that’s settled it. i’m amazing, and the only one who can decipher your handwriting.”
“right,” yifan agrees, hiding a smile. “quite right.”
yixing delves in the box again, polaroids in his palms. there’s a stray ray of sunlight on a brick wall, a blurred shot of someone’s hands, a boy standing up on his bicycle. four other photos, all gray, with a thread in the center connecting them all. “what are all these?” his smile fades and he’s solemn, hushed.
“these,” yifan scratches the back of his neck. “these are parts of new stories i’m working on. i’ll be starting on the gray ones sometime soon-- i just have a feeling about those.”
yixing spreads them out on the sheets and stares at them for a long while. “will you tell me about them, one day?” he asks, and yifan can only nod.
he’ll tell yixing everything that could be possibly told. just give him time.
you’d like him, mama
“what’re you going to do,” yifan murmurs, arm curling around yixing’s shoulders as they lie, quiet, amidst the rumpled blankets on his bed. “about those pages you need to turn back?”
yixing looks up at him, and his expression is... lost, and worried, and however much yifan wants to help, he prepares himself for a rebuke, or perhaps a gentle push away from the topic. but yixing just sighs and settles back down against his chest. “you can go through them,”he replies, voice just above a whisper. “see if they should be turned, after all.”
it’s over a cup of coffee in the middle of the night (yixing is sensible, but he also coaxes yifan into dangerously bad decisions sometimes) when he eventually tells yifan about it. “remember the music theory friend? the high school senior i’d told you about,” he starts, and yifan nods immediately.
“of course i remember. go on.”
yifan learns that they’d paired up for a competition, the two of them, yixing and his friend. they’d practised and sweated and practised and sang and played and sweated for all of three months after signing up, obsessively, almost. it got to the point that they didn’t even care about winning anymore, participating in itself was enough; standing on the stage and performing. showing. “we’d done our piece from scratch,” there’s a glint of pride in yixing’s eyes as he says it, fingers tapping incessantly against the table. “in all, there were about thirty participants, and we were going to have a lot of rounds. perhaps ten? twelve? i was content with simply performing in the first round, but hyung, for once, said we could let ourselves dream big for a bit. we stayed up the whole night choosing our would-be performances, all the songs and duets we’d be adding our own twists to, all the audiences we’d woo.”
yifan feels a smile tugging at his lips. “sounds like fun.”
“it was fun,” yixing leans back in his seat and sighs, feet bumping against yifan’s. “and we were so into the very idea of the competition... we pretty much bordered on obsessed, i think.” second-last week to the big day, and they were practising themselves hoarse at every possible occasion. yixing’s parents warned him time and time again to keep it down, but then, they always had. yixing hadn’t paid much attention.
the week before the competition, neither of them were able to sleep a wink. “this is bad,” they had kicked at the dirt with their shoes as they stood, tensely, at the door of yixing’s house. “the lack of sleep, the competition! my board exams begin just three hours after it ends!” yixing had only laughed it off, because he knew it didn't make a difference to either of them. downsizing its importance, talking about impending exams instead, was just a way of coping, somehow.
the night before the competition, yixing had rolled over and given the other an experimental call at half past midnight. “jinki hyung picked up so fast i couldn’t believe the signals had even begun to send. and when he said hello, i could tell he was wide awake and nervous.” yixing tilts his head to stare at the blank tv screen, heaves a sigh. “sometimes, there are moments when your skin crackles and your ears are so sensitive, you can hear your heartbeat and your breathing and the passing cars outside ten times louder than usual. it feels like something good, something very, very special is crawling under your skin and pounding in your skull, something sweet and wide awake. something like moonlight and what wolves would sound like if their howls were happy. and then those moments just stick with you. they don’t shake off. i don’t think they ever shake off.
“this is so many years ago, but i feel like i’m half here, now, talking to you, and half there, then, when i could hear my breathing, and hyung’s. i was sitting upright, legs tucked under me, picking at my blue shirt, and i remember the garbage truck driving by -- i could tell by the way its engine was hissing -- and then the streetlight in front of my window flickered. i’ll always remember that.”
jinki had laughingly proposed vocal practise on the phone, but yixing was so restless he’d taken him seriously, started warming up right away. ten minutes later they were both belting themselves hoarse, and fifteen minutes later, jinki’s parents woke up, confused. thirty seconds more, and yixing’s father burst into the room, eyes dark, fuming.
yixing gives a sudden little laugh, pulling his hands and feet in towards himself. “he just. blew up. i’d say he blew up out of nowhere, but then, he’d told me so many times before, kept trying to wheedle me out of music theory, out of seriously looking at music as a way of life. so maybe i should have seen it coming. but he’d never been pushy, and i thought there was a right to choice. but there wasn’t.”
you have a father with power and money (the two are rarely separate), and you have quite a few advantages in comparison to others who don’t have that kind of parent. yixing had always had the latest mp3 players, then the walkmans, then the ipods. basketballs, new books every month, and, later on, the most expensive gym membership. shirts clean pressed and ironed out by the part time maid, food cooked by the chef; chauffeur to open the car and escort him at the major family events back home, in china.
but there were also disadvantages; your father can do anything he wants with that power and money. in an hour, yixing’s bags were packed to accompany his father’s business trip to busan the next day. no amount of force, physical or emotional, would get him out of it. his phone and laptop confiscated, unable even to tell jinki anything.
they left at dawn and returned in a month. by then, the senior batch had graduated.
yixing tried asking around, but jonghyun had left for a far-flung tour of the world already, and taemin only gnashed his teeth and growled at him. yixing went to ask the people who ran the competition -- called them, asked them if anyone had dropped out. they affirmed that four had. competitors lee jinki, zhang yixing, kang daesung and song jieun. so jinki hadn’t gone. he wouldn’t have. “you and me, i promise,” he’d said.
he’d even tried contacting his parents, but they’d only say that he’d gone to seoul.
“i got admitted into business school, in guangzhou, so i went. then i came back.”
yifan is silent, but he reaches out and covers yixing’s hands with his.
“i found his address,” yixing says, quietly, after a minute. “it’s why i’d gone, in the middle. i’m sorry.” his hands twist up from under yifan’s, grasp them tightly. yifan squeezes back.
“i just want to apologize to him, tell him what happened. let him i know i’ve always meant well.”
(mama would be proud of him, he thinks. he’s doing something good. he’s doing something good, for someone he loves. he’s doing something good.)
you there, mama?
yifan is just beginning to fiddle with the car keys, anxiously, when his phone begins to ring. “āi, nán péngyǒ!” yixing’s voice sing-songs, and yifan fights to keep the blush down from his cheeks. cheesy new ringtones every week are something that comes with dating yixing, apparently, and he’s not complaining. he considers this fact and aims his thumb at the screen to swipe down to answer, a pigeon flies over his windshield and pees in a splatter. he jumps, picking up the call.
“hey,” he says, apprehensive, but all he hears on the other end is yixing’s accented hangul, slightly garbled, then someone else’s voice, and then yixing saying, “ah, well, let’s go, then.”
this is alarming. “yixing! where’re you going! where! tell me!”
the line drops. dammit. what if yixing’s walked into an ambush? what if yixing’s willingly being kidnapped? what if yixing’s running away? what if yifan’s been a monster and yixing hates him? what--
yixing’s stepping out of the building, laughing at something a slightly shorter man is saying. yifan blinks. his smile genuine and bright, nothing like yixing’s but very cute in its own way, and his eyes crinkle up pleasedly at the edges as he adds something and yixing laughs even harder, running towards the car.
yixing rushes to his door and knocks impatiently. “yifan! come out! say hello!”
and this is when it hits yifan, that he’s about to meet yixing’s long-lost mentor-best-friend-elder-brother figure, and he feels entirely overwhelmed and silly. he unlocks the door and steps out, bowing immediately.
“don’t, don’t,” the man says, and his voice is soft and heavy. “yixing doesn’t, and his boyfriend shouldn’t, either.”
yifan stops bowing and blushes like ten thousand tomato crates, not that that analogy makes any sense. “he’s very shy,” yixing explains, and yifan feels so red he’s sure he’s turning purple. “jinki hyung, this is yifan, yifan, this is jinki hyung.”
“i’m not shy,” yifan blurts. “it’s just hot today.”
“so it is,” jinki agrees, amiably. “plus, you’re tall. closer to the sun.”
(mama would be proud.)
the hand yixing shoves playfully into his has something slightly wiry on it. yifan looks down, momentarily. a thin, red bracelet, little portions of it glinting in the afternoon sunlight, looking like rubies. yifan looks back up, joins in with jinki’s laughter, with yixing’s.
yifan holds his hand tight.
“turn on the radio,” yixing mumbles, rummaging through his bag for the wallet. “want some music.”
“radio radio!” zitao calls from the backseat, sprawled under sehun who is currently trying to literally chew his ear off. or maybe lick it romantically, who knows.
so yifan turns it on and fiddles with the dial, freezing a little when familiar words come on.
i wanna be your vacuum cleaner
breathing in your dust
i wanna be your ford cortina
i won’t ever rust
“hey,” sehun says, slowly, sitting up, but zitao growls and yanks him back down.
yixing looks up, a look of confusion on his face before yifan can tell he remembers, and then yixing’s fingers lace through his in the heavy afternoon traffic.
under his breath, yifan hums along as the light turns green and the cars begin to move.
are harder to hide than i thought.
a/n: many thanks, cakes, souls and just a tiny flute of nice alcohol to jihye without whom this would never have happened because i am a BUM and incapable of doing stuff by myself. does that imply she babysat me through this. yes, yes it does.