The prison guard in charge of the cells along his corridor come to him one fine Tuesday, pulling up the latch that would allow the guards to see inside the four-person cell and call out his number - the number printed on his prisoner’s uniform.
“22756! Step out.”
Tang Yi looks up from where he’s lying down on his uncomfortable cot, confused. Visiting hours are usually 11am to 4pm in the day, and only for half an hour at most per inmate. It’s a few minutes to midnight here, which means whatever he’s being called out for, it’s not good.
His cellmates barely toss him a look as he gets up and heads for the door.
It’s been ten months for him in prison, serving his two-year sentence in this correctional facility. The days are long, and the only thing he lives for is seeing his family, seeing Shao Fei, every week for that allotted time. It’s not enough, and while he’s gotten used to sleeping here, gotten used to the faces he sees everyday, it’s never enough. He itches to be outside again, to breathe some fresh air and to feel the sunlight on his skin.
They don’t get enough sunlight — the one hour they get is sometimes cut short, and while everyone is pissed off, there isn’t much they can do. Luckily, the guards have not been giving him much trouble. It’s the inmates that he needs to look out for — Xing Tian Meng, and he himself, had a long list of enemies, and some of those enemies are here.
He had already gotten into eight fights, and none he had escaped from unscathed. The skin around Shao Fei’s eyes tightened whenever he saw the bruises, and it always took the whole call to calm his boyfriend down.
This could be another instance, thinks Tang Yi grimly. The guard is leading him past the infirmary and to the top floor, venturing further than he’s been in the past few months. He tenses up, because there’s only one place they could be heading to at this point. He’s not sure what this is about, but whatever it is, he’s just going to have to grit his teeth and get through it.
The guard in front of him opens the door to the director’s office.
“You get five minutes only,” the man says into the office, then steps aside and gestures for Tang Yi to go in.
Confused, Tang Yi peers inside the office, and what he sees there make his breath catch in his throat.
Standing in the middle of the tiny office one Meng Shao Fei. Tang Yi swallows, his eyes wide in disbelief. He doesn’t even remember taking the few steps needed to get into the office. He doesn’t register the door slamming shut behind him, because all he can see is Shao Fei-
Shao Fei, standing within reach, without that thick plexi glass between them both, and Tang Yi cannot speak-
“Happy birthday!” Shao Fei grins, holding up the cake, and it’s fucking hideous, “Tang, happy birthday! Are your surprised?”
His feet bring him to Shao Fei, and there’s a single candle in the tiny cake.
“How-“ Tang Yi’s throat closes up, his eyes never leaving Shao Fei’s face for a second.
He’s here. Shao Fei is here, and how is he here?
“Director Huang owes me a favour,” Shao Fei answers, but Tang Yi barely hears him, just drinking in the sight of Shao Fei. His hair is cropped shorter, and he looks like he’s eating well. “And it’s a huge favour! I called it in today, and he says we’ve only got five minutes and I’ve got to leave by the back door, but whatever-“
The man trails off as Tang Yi reaches out for him, his fingers caressing at a fading bruise on Shao Fei’s cheekbone. As soon as his fingers come into contact with Shao Fei’s skin, Tang Yi shudders. Exhales shakily. Swallows.
“Tang Yi,” and Tang Yi’s eyes move from the bruise to meet Shao Fei’s eyes, and he inhales sharply at what he sees there. “Tang, blow the candle out first.”
Shao Fei’s voice is so gentle, and his eyes are so soft, so soft, filled with love and adoration for him. Tang Yi doesn’t deserve any of it, doesn’t deserve this man, doesn’t deserve so much good, but here he is.
Here Shao Fei is.
Numbly, Tang Yi blows the candle out, and Shao Fei sets the cake aside. Once Shao Fei’s hands are free of cake, Tang Yi’s cuffed hands reach over him, and he pulls Shao Fei close before the man has even righted himself. He hugs Shao Fei, and Tang Yi just… his arms tightens around Shao Fei as he presses his face into the juncture between Shao Fei’s shoulder and neck. Tang Yi buries his face there and just breathes.
Shao Fei is here, and he’s real.
For his part, Shao Fei hugs back just as tight, and his touch feels so good. Tang Yi almost goes boneless, falling right into Shao Fei and trusting him to hold him up. It reminds him of that afternoon so many months ago, Shao Fei sending him off at the door. They’d hugged like this then too.
Tang Yi missed this. He’s craved for this for so long.
“I miss you,” Shao Fei whispers into his ear. “I miss you so much, Tang Yi.”
I love you, Tang Yi thinks so viscerally that he feels it right in his toes. He tightens his hold, an impossible feat almost, and chokes out, “You’re here.”
“I’m here,” and lips press against his cheek. “I’m here, Tang Yi.”
He know he’s only got five minutes, and Shao Fei knows this too. Yet, they stay in this position for the remainder of the time they have left, with Shao Fei occasionally peppering his cheek and neck with kisses. Tang Yi cannot speak, the words unable to leave his mouth, but he feels it. He knows it.
He loves this man, this foolish man who’s dumb enough to stay and wait for him, who loves him too.
When the door opens loudly behind them, it feels like no time has passed, but also as if he’s been here forever, safe in Shao Fei’s arms.
They part reluctantly, Shao Fei’s eyes darting to someone over his shoulder before focusing back on him. Tang Yi turns, and he sees the guard who brought him here standing there, and also Director Huang, the head of this prison. He doesn’t doubt that they know what’s going on between him and Shao Fei, and how ridiculous it must look. An ex-gang leader doing his time, in a relationship with an upstanding officer of the police force?
Tang Yi jolts as lips press over his, and arms wrap around him again one last time, the last time in a long, long while as Shao Fei kisses him. Right in front of the guard and the director, without any pretence or hesitation.
He savours the feel of Shao Fei’s lips against his, and burns it into his memory.
“I’ll see you next week,” Shao Fei promises as he pulls away.
It’s the image of Shao Fei that he sees, standing there in the dimly lit office with a cake for him, as he makes the walk back to his cell escorted by his guard. As he leaves, he hears Shao Fei asking the director why he couldn’t have had just another five minutes with him, and the old man sighs before asking Shao Fei why he couldn’t have chosen someone easier to be with and did he know how many strings he had to pull for Shao Fei to come here even if only for five minutes, the ungrateful brat.
Tang Yi will tell Shao Fei he loves him the moment he leaves this place, he swears.
Tang Yi shudders awake in a gasp, almost lurching off the bed in fear of something chasing him, its fingers so close that he can feel them down the spine of his back.
“Tang Yi,” comes the worried voice in his ear. “Tang Yi, it’s okay. It’s just a dream, I promise.”
He gasps for breath, unsure of where he is, what time it is… who he is, even. All he can do is suck large gulps of air into his burning lungs. His heartbeat thuds so loudly in his eardrums, and Tang Yi tries to move, only to find his arms locked in position.
As his vision focuses, Tang Yi finally sees Shao Fei.
Shao Fei who’s leaning over him, his arms out in front of him and sporting a worried expression on his face. The man isn’t wearing anything aside from his boxers, and Tang Yi can feel Shao Fei’s skin on his as he’s using his body weight to stop him. Stop him from thrashing around most likely, Tang Yi realizes as he looks down and sees his own wrists locked up in Shao Fei’s grip.
He’s at home, and the realization sinks like a punch to the gut.
Shao Fei feels the moment Tang Yi returns to himself, as all the taut muscles in Tang Yi’s body goes slack and he drops back against the bed. At that, Shao Fei finally moves off of Tang Yi and releases his punishing grip on Tang Yi’s arms, but he doesn’t move away. Instead, he leans down to cuddle up against Tang Yi, looking at him from where his face is perched on one arm and elbow.
His touch feather light but so incredibly grounding, Tang Yi lets Shao Fei smooth his sweat-matted hair away from his face as he just tries to breathe.
“I’m sorry,” Tang Yi mumbles, his cheeks flushing warm with shame.
“Hey, nothing to be sorry for,” Shao Fei returns softly, bending down to kiss Tang Yi’s forehead. “It was a bad dream. We have them occasionally.”
“It’s not occasionally,” Tang Yi says through gritted teeth, and if Shao Fei wasn’t holding him, he would have turned around to get out of bed. “It’s been every other night since I came back.”
“Just like when I get home from a really bad case,” Shao Fei points out. “What did you dream about, Tang?”
Tang Yi falls silent at the question, and Shao Fei doesn’t push. He knows the man will come around soon enough. After all, Shao Fei has already waited for more than six years for Tang Yi.
He’s willing to wait a hell lot longer than that, if it is for Tang Yi.
Instead, he gets to his feet and heads to the closet and finds a fresh pyjama top for Tang Yi to change into.
After they’ve dumped the sweat-soaked top to the floor, Tang Yi finally answers, “Just the usual. Running down long hallways and alleys, something chasing me. People crowding me in.”
The hallways resemble those in the prison, while the alleys remind him of the ones he and Hong Ye were spent a lot of time in for a few months, homeless. There was never anything solid chasing him, however. Just a black mass, and a feeling that a hand was reaching out, touching his neck, his back, ready to scratch and claw at him at any given moment.
It was so stupid.
Shao Fei got home late last night from an urgent case, and Tang Yi doesn’t want to think about his dreams anymore. He asks, “How was work yesterday?”
At that, Shao Fei launches into the previous day’s events, lying on Tang Yi’s chest with his ear pressed over his heart. Tang Yi remembers hearing about a six mile car chase and Jun Wei falling down a flight of stairs in the chase, and then nothing else.
Tang Yi’s not very sure why he’s having nightmares that are a mix of his time in prison and the days before Tang Guo Dong found him. After all, it wasn’t like prison was… terrible. He hated the beds, hated his cellmates, hated the food and the lack of sunlight. He also hated being always on alert, because he had his fair share of enemies in prison, but nothing ever escalated beyond a fist fight. When it came to his childhood, sure, his abusive adoptive dad was an asshole, and Tang Yi spent the first two months after he ran away stealing scraps from rubbish bins and holing up in anything remotely warm at night, but that was a long time ago.
He doesn’t want to worry Hong Ye, but it comes up in conversation at work the next day.
“Well, we weren’t really in danger of starving or anything,” Hong Ye agrees thoughtfully, “But it wasn’t like those days were good, you know? You and I got into so many fights, and in the day it was fighting with other small gangsters or delinquents, and then at night we had to fight other homeless people for a warm, sheltered spot to sleep. We were always ready to dash off if we saw the police, or anyone who approached us. It’s possibly the same in prison for you? Always having to look over your back. Never being able to sleep easy.”
Hong Ye leans into Tang Yi’s shoulder, sitting next to him. “I couldn’t sleep at all even two weeks after Tang-ye picked us up.”
“What helped?” Tang Yi frowns, because he’s tired of not sleeping through the night.
It must be worse for Shao Fei.
“Hmm… Dao Yi was always sitting at the door to my room after that,” Hong Ye recalls. “Told me that I could sleep easy because he was watching over my sleep, and that I had nothing to worry about. I guess it worked. The mind is a very strange thing sometimes.”
She laughs then, “Maybe you should get your police captain to sit at your door for you.”
On the way home that evening, Tang Yi ponders over what Hong Ye said to him. Shao Fei has been his watchdog for weeks since he was released from prison. While not at the door, he’s been right by his side, touching him, kissing him and just being an anchoring presence.
Tang Yi makes a grocery stop. He hasn’t cooked in a while too, these days preferring to eat out or let Shao Fei make a simple sandwich or bowl of noodles for him. Breakfast is usually a fried egg or two, with toast and ham. Two years in prison and Tang Yi worries that he has lost his touch, which is why he hasn’t bothered trying to cook.
Tonight, he wants to make Shao Fei’s favourite spicy chicken and tofu dish.
When he gets through the door, the entire house is quiet. Shao Fei didn’t text him to say that he was working late and at this time he should already be at home. The station chief gave Team Three the choice to leave work early these few days considering how hard they worked on the case the day before.
Tang Yi goes in search of Shao Fei once he’s packed the groceries away, and pauses when he sees a familiar tuft of hair on the living room couch.
He cannot help but smile as he walks over, taking off his jacket as he does so. There his boyfriend is, slumbering away under the last few rays of sunlight for the day. He looks warm and toasty, and Tang Yi is loathed to wake him. Instead, he sits on the coffee table so that he can see Shao Fei.
When he notices the dark eye bags under Shao Fei’s eyes, a pang of guilt hits him. Of course Shao Fei is tired. How many nights has it been, not sleeping through the night, awakened by his thrashing or shouts, and then having to stay up to soothe him back to sleep after?
Pressing his lips almost reverently against Shao Fei’s temple, Tang Yi whispers, i love you.
“… Hong Ye, seriously, he’s going to love the dress, okay? Stop fretting. You already bought the dress, and it’s not cheap! It’s been tailored, and the wedding is in two weeks.”
“Even you know the wedding is in two weeks,” Hong Ye mumbles, taking a sip of her wine. “I don’t know if my fiancé knows it’s the wedding in two weeks.”
There’s a snort, and then Shao Fei continues, “Hong Ye. They’re dealing with an attempted hostile takeover and a plagiarism suit. Even Tang Yi hasn’t been home in the past week, and what are you saying? You were at the office today tearing the spy a new one.”
“Spy? What do you think this is, a movie?”
“You called me to arrest the man who stole confidential Shi Hai contract deals, it’s corporate espionage, he’s a spy.”
From where he’s standing in the living room, he can see Hong Ye and Shao Fei’s legs stretched out on the chairs out on the veranda, facing the pool. Tang Yi frowns as he hears about the arrest - he hasn’t hear anything about it from anyone, not even Jack, who’s kind of freelancing for him right now.
“Fine, so he’s a spy. It took me three days to find the asshole. Can you believe he was stealing from right under my nose? And two weeks before my wedding too! Is this a bad sign? I mean how many couples have to deal with so much shit before their wedding? It’s not even to do with the wedding itself! Besides, there’s still the other one. We only caught one, I’m sure Zhou Wan that bastard has another mole in the company. The one that we caught today couldn’t have had so much access into our files.”
Tang Yi hears a pop then. Ah, they’ve broken out the champagne, he thinks, probably the bottle they got three or four weeks ago from a client. He wracks his brain for the calendar, and the wedding is indeed two weeks from now. In the mess of these few weeks, he’s really not proud to say that as Hong Ye’s doting brother, the wedding did, in fact, slip his mind.
Dao Yi Ge too has been busy too, right at his side. The details are a little too cumbersome to remember, but in summary, one of the elders in Xing Tian Meng who’d just returned to Taipei thought it would be easy to buy his way into Shi Hai Corporations’ board of members and then call for a board meeting to oust him. The worst part was that this man was, back in the day, Dao Yi’s closest brother in the gang.
The man had not been happy, and both Tang Yi and Dao Yi have spent the past few days restructuring and dealing with the fallout, more or less. Tang Yi thought the dramatic days of guns and betrayal were beyond him. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.
“Look, Hong Ye. You did all you could. You found one of the men who was selling information to Zhou Wan and called me while Dao Yi Ge and Tang Yi were dealing with everything else. On top of that, you got your dress, caterers, florists and music for the wedding settled. “
Tang Yi walks out just as Hong Ye grabs Shao Fei’s arm and asks, “Wait. You know, now that I think about it, maybe we should have gone for the white and red ensemble rather than pink and blue-“
“No,” Shao Fei enunciates, pulling her hand off his arm. “No, you changed your mind thrice. You’re not changing the colours of the flowers again! I’ve seen more colours than I ever have in my life because of you and I really didn’t need to know the difference between magenta and fuchsia.”
Seeing Hong Ye and Shao Fei like this, the two people he loves most in the world, sitting so comfortably with each other, Tang Yi cannot help but be grateful that it was Shao Fei who was there when he first woke up after being shot, after losing Lao Tang. Because it was Shao Fei, Hong Ye now has two brothers to have her back. And when Hong Ye and Dao Yi have children, they will have Shao Fei at their sides to spoil them.
This is his family, complete with the missing rib he was told to find, the missing rib he so loves and cannot do without.
Shao Fei looks up then, and sees him. His lips curve into a wide smile.
Tang Yi suddenly feels the urge to go over and kiss the smile off Shao Fei’s face, Hong Ye’s presence be damned. Stepping forward to do just that, wanting to let Shao Fei know just how much he’s loved, Tang Yi freezes as his phone rings.
It’s Dao Yi, telling him that they’ve found the other staff involved in the information leak.
Tang Yi sighs softly.
“You found the other one?” asks Shao Fei, as astute as ever.
“You did?” Hong Ye jumps to her feet immediately, eyes wide.
“Dao Yi Ge did,” Tang Yi says, heading over.
He kisses Hong Ye at the crown of her forehead, then bends down so he can reach Shao Fei’s lips. They kiss softly, and when Tang Yi pulls away, Shao Fei looks a little dazed.
I love you, he wants to say.
“I’ll be back home late tonight,” he says instead, apologetic.
“Hnn, got it,” Shao Fei nods.
With much regret, he turns and leaves the way he came. The faster he wraps this up, the sooner they can all focus on the upcoming wedding.
Shao Fei texted him earlier to let him know he was joining him at the office for lunch — Tang Yi didn’t used to eat at his staff cafeteria much, until Shao Fei discovered Hua jie, the sixty year old lady in charge of the dumpling stall while Tang Yi was in jail, apparently. It doesn’t help that Hua jie loves Shao Fei, her handsome little police captain, and always manages to save him a large bowl of his favourite dumpling specials when he visits. Since Tang Yi returned, he’s been eating in the cafeteria at least once a week with Shao Fei.
There aren’t many people, older women and children especially, who can resist Shao Fei's charms. If Tang Yi wasn’t so sure that Shao Fei loves him and if Hua jie was thirty years younger, he would have to work a lot harder to woo Shao Fei.
The moment he steps out of the lift, a little after his staff’s typical lunch hour, he hears Shao Fei’s raised voice.
Alarmed, Tang Yi darts out of the lift lobby and into the cafeteria, and that’s when he sees Shao Fei standing angrily at a table where six staff are seated, still eating. There aren’t many occupied tables left here, with most of his employees back at their desks after lunch, but there are one or two around. Everyone is staring at Shao Fei.
“I’m asking you to take that back,” Shao Fei seethes, his eyes hard. “What you said was untrue, so take it back.”
The man he’s talking to, Tang Yi vaguely remembers him from marketing, scoffs.
“Who the hell are you? Besides, it’s not like I said anything wrong. Who here in Shi Hai doesn’t know that Tang-zong came from a gangster family, and that this whole company is built up on dirty money. Plus he got the job after his dad died, and instead of choosing any of the other more qualified executives around, Tang Yi was selected. If you say he had nothing to do with his father’s death, then you’re-”
Shao Fei slams both hands down on the table, cutting him off. The two girls at the end of the table yelp.
“I said,” he repeats, “take that back. It’s untrue, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
One of the girls look at the first man who spoke, and whispers, “An He, let it go. He’s Tang-zong’s boyfriend, haven’t you seen him around? Just apologise already-“
“Why should I apologise? Tang Yi isn’t a capable boss, and he’s terrible to his employees. Just the other day he fired Li Li after she told human resources that she was pregnant! And wasn’t Tang Yi about to lose his seat in the company a few weeks ago? If Gu-zong jing li didn’t step in for him, he would have lost the company already, and he was up against Zhou Wan! Zhou-zong’s experience and reputation, everyone has heard of. Plus, Tang Yi’s an ex-convict-“
Before the man can even finish his sentence, Shao Fei gets all up in his face and bristles, “You shut the hell up on things you don’t know about.”
He’s so menacing and serious that the man actually swallows in fear, before Shao Fei straightens again, regarding everyone at the table.
“Do you have any idea how hard Tang Yi works every day? How hard he worked before this to make sure Shi Hai is where it is today? You don’t. He works harder than any of his employees, stays later than any of them, and he built Shi Hai together with Hong Ye with pure hard work. And being terrible to his employees? I don’t know which rock you’ve been living under, but if an employee has worked here for more than three months, Tang Yi knows their names. All of them. He knows their families too. If his employees are loyal to him, he gives back, and more than that! That Li Li you were talking about, she was fired because she was a lazy worker who lied to human resources at the interview about her qualifications.”
“You don’t know a single thing about him, and all you know to do is to badmouth him behind his back,” Shao Fei glares, his hands on his hips looking as if he is reprimanding a group of rookies in his team.
Tang Yi doesn’t really care about what they say about him — he’s heard all of it before and worse, but seeing Shao Fei this angry, all for him? Just when he thought he couldn’t love the man any more than he already does.
He’s about to go over and break the party up when another one of the group speaks up.
“And what do you know? You’re just Tang-zong’s little bitch of a boyfriend-“
Tang Yi takes a lot of pleasure in walking up in their direct line of vision, and seeing the six of them pale. Before Shao Fei explodes in anger, he slides an arm around Shao Fei’s waist and smiles at his employees.
“He is my fiancé, actually,” Tang Yi says easily, and feels Shao Fei’s head snap around to look at him, but his eyes are resolutely on the man who called Shao Fei a little bitch. “I’d take what he says quite seriously because he can in fact speak on my behalf.”
“Tang Yi,” Shao Fei says, stunned.
“The two of you can clear out your desk and head to human resources in the next half an hour,” Tang Yi continues as if he didn’t hear him.
“Tang-zong, we were just- we were just joking, it was a mistake, we-“
“Was it?” Tang Yi asks, smiling.
Shivers run down everyone’s spines, because there’s nothing friendly in that smile at all.
“What are you waiting for? For me to call security to have you escorted out?”
The two men, shamefaced, stand up and leave the table, leaving the other four petrified employees in their seats. Tang Yi stares at them for a little longer than necessary, just to prove a point.
“I don’t pay any of you to gossip at work,” he finally speaks. “This is your first warning. And the last, I hope.”
“Yes, Tang-zong,” they chorus, eyes wide. “Thank you Tang-zong.”
“Great. Have a good lunch,” he says, knowing that they will not.
“Tang Yi,” Shao Fei protests as he’s dragged away in the direction of Hua jie’s stall, “Tang Yi, what did you do that for?”
Tang Yi shoots him a knowing look. “If I didn’t step in, you would have gotten into a fight the next moment, and I’m not sure I know how to bail a police captain out of jail.”
“He said all those things about you and I-“
“Nothing I haven’t heard before,” Tang Yi smiles, kissing Shao Fei on his cheek. “I’m happy I heard you defend my honour, however.”
“Of course!” Shao Fei declares. “No one is allowed to say bad things about you, not when I’m around to hear it.”
And no one is allowed to talk shit about the person he loves either, Tang Yi thinks.
Instead of saying it out loud, Tang Yi kisses Shao Fei again.
A hand closes gently around his shoulder, but Tang Yi doesn’t look up.
“Ah Yi,” the soft voice comes, “You’ve been sitting here for three whole days. Why not you go home with Dao Yi for a few hours? Get some sleep, eat something. I’ll be here, I’ll watch him carefully. He won’t know you’re gone, I promise.”
He doesn’t reply or respond even to Hong Ye’s call.
“… he’s been sitting here for three days, Dao Yi, he has to rest for a bit at least.”
“I don’t think he’s going to leave anytime soon, Hong Ye.” A pause. “Why not you go downstairs and get some coffee and food?”
The sound of footsteps recede, until it’s just silence in the room again.
“Xiao Tang,” Dao Yi says, and it’s a rare occurrence for Dao Yi to call Tang Yi by the nickname Lao Tang and himself used to call him. He settles into a chair next to Tang Yi. “He’s going to pull through. He will, you know that.”
Tang Yi doesn’t know how long he’s held onto Shao Fei’s cold hand without leaving. Shao Fei, who’s attached to multiple machines, with so many tubes running in and out of him, who is only breathing because he’s attached to a ventilator and lying here paler than Tang Yi has ever seen him. He’s never been this… colourless, lifeless, almost. Not that time when he got shot because of Hong Ye, not even that time when Tang Yi shot him.
He remembers getting the call from a crying and panicking Zhao Zi three days ago, and Jack taking the phone from him to relay the message that Zhao Zi was unable to in a grim tone. Tang Yi doesn’t even remember getting to the hospital. It’s all a blank in his head. The persistent buzzing in his ears doesn’t seem to have gone away. It’s been there since Shao Fei came out of the operating theatre, and Jin Tang’s face was all grey and ashen.
“Tang Yi, he… I don’t know if he’ll wake up,” Jin Tang said, and it’s because he’s his oldest friend that Jin Tang spares him all the usual words of comfort. “There’s really no telling at this point. He was shot twice in the lungs and fell off the balcony on the second storey, hitting his head really bad, which made it worse. Help was delayed getting to him, he was out of oxygen for a while, and he lost so much blood…”
“He can’t leave me,” Tang Yi speaks finally, his voice hoarse from not speaking for the past three days.
He’s been sitting here, almost catatonic. Unmoving, rarely even getting up to go to the bathroom.
“I’ve lost too many people I love,” he repeats, “I cannot lose anyone else. Dao Yi Ge.”
Tang Yi looks up, and it’s as if he’s twelve again, looking up at Dao Yi who was taking care of him and Hong Ye then, and almost begging him to help him fix this. And it’s also as if it’s six years ago, when he woke up disoriented, and then spiralling into disbelief, rage and grief as Dao Yi gently broke the news to him, that Tang-ye was gone.
He cannot do this again, Tang Yi knows that. He’s not going to survive losing the most important person in his life again. Never again.
Dao Yi only squeezes at his shoulder, trying to give him comfort when there’s none.
“You can’t take care of him when you’re about to collapse yourself, Xiao Tang. Look, I brought you some toiletries and a change of clothes. Freshen up, take 15 minutes. I’ll watch him.”
When Dao Yi takes care of him, like he always has done, Tang Yi finds himself unable to say no. So mechanically, his muscles and bones stiff from days of sitting in the same position, Tang Yi gets up, takes the bag offered, and goes into the bathroom to do as he’s told.
He doesn’t remember the shower much. When he comes back out, his three-day old stubble still there, his hair wet and his eyes bloodshot from the lack of sleep, Dao Yi manages to coax him onto the sofa bed next to the bed.
“He’ll be fine with me watching him,” Dao Yi assures him again. “You’re right next to him. If anything happens you’ll hear it. You need to rest, Xiao Tang.”
It’s hell for Tang Yi over the next few days. He eats and drinks when someone presses food and water into his hands, he goes to take a shower and clean up when Dao Yi comes in with Hong Ye to make sure he rests, but it’s all a blur to him. All he knows is the rise and fall of Shao Fei’s chest, the proof that he’s still alive and here with him.
Tang Yi doesn’t let go of Shao Fei’s hand. His lips are familiar with every knuckle, every scar there.
Wake up and come back to me, he wants to shout.
And more often than not, he finds himself regretting never telling Shao Fei he loves him. Shao Fei tells him all the time, over the smallest of things, so why can’t he say it? Why can’t he give Shao Fei those three simple words?
“Tang, I love you,” Shao Fei said so easily, and didn’t ask to hear it in return.
“I know,” Tang Yi replied instead, even if the words were literally at the tip of his tongue.
Time passes, but Tang Yi doesn’t register any of it. His time is measured by Shao Fei’s breaths, the lines on the heartrate monitor, by every moment Shao Fei is still asleep.
Two weeks later, Tang Yi wakes to the feeling of fingers carding through his hair gently. Over and over. It’s been a long while since anyone did that to him. He misses Shao Fei so much-
He freezes, and jolts up into a sitting position.
Tang Yi is afraid to even breathe, uncertain if this is real, if Shao Fei’s open eyes are real, if that tiny little smile is real, because he’s dreamt about it so many times over the last few weeks that nothing feels real anymore.
“You look like shit,” rasps Shao Fei, one hand pulling the breathing mask aside.
And oddly enough, that’s when he knows it’s real.
Relief slams into him like a hurricane, and Tang Yi cannot move, cannot speak, cannot even think.
Shao Fei is awake.
“Water?” Shao Fei asks.
The motions are familiar to him by now, considering how many times he’s done this for Shao Fei. Pouring some water into a cup, and then wetting a cotton bud and dabbing it at Shao Fei’s chapped, cracked lips.
“You,” Tang Yi swallows nervously, because he remembers what Jin Tang told him about possible brain damage, “You remember who I am, right?”
Shao Fei snorts weakly, his hand tapping on Tang Yi’s laps in reprimand. “Did you knock yourself in the head?”
Then apologetically, “I must have been hurt quite bad, for you to look this terrible. I’m sorry, Tang.”
And just like that, everything he’s been holding in just… spills over. Tang Yi buries his face into Shao Fei’s shoulder, and the sobs that come from him are gut-wrenching. He lost his most important person a few years back, and these few weeks, he tasted the grief and utter anguish he felt then.
I love you more than you’ll ever know, he wants to say, but everything is just too much at this moment.
Shao Fei hushes him, and with every caress, Tang Yi remembers how to breathe again.
“I’ll do the dishes, you go sit down,” Tang Yi says, pointing at the table.
It’s been a week since Shao Fei’s discharge, and the man is still on medical leave until he’s cleared for active duty back at the station. Considering that Shao Fei is huffing and panting in exertion with even three flights of stairs, Tang Yi knows he’s keeping Shao Fei at home for a while longer.
“I’m not that fragile,” Shao Fei sighs, and this is the tenth time they’re having this conversation. “Tang Yi, the wounds are healed, and the checks came back fine. I’m pretty sure I can handle standing for a bit and doing dishes with you.”
Tang Yi opens his mouth again, but Shao Fei points at him. “No! This isn’t up for negotiation. I wash, you dry the damn plates, Tang Yi.”
He knows a losing argument with Shao Fei when he sees one. With both his hands held up in surrender, Tang Yi moves to the side, ready for drying duty.
The thing is, Tang Yi is always looking for the right time to declare his love for Shao Fei. He doesn’t doubt that Shao Fei knows it. He feels it, and so Shao Fei has never asked to hear those three words back.
Since it’s only three simple words, it should be easy for him to say, but it never comes out, no matter how strongly he feels for it.
As they work together easily at the sink, Tang Yi takes his time to stare at Shao Fei, and to marvel at how beautiful he is. Especially in the kitchen like this, when the morning light falls over him so prettily. How did he get so lucky? Tang Yi could have lost Shao Fei a few weeks ago, and he’s still reeling a little from that slap of reality, but here he is.
“I love you,” the words come out of his mouth unconsciously.
Tang Yi doesn’t know who’s more shocked, him or Shao Fei. Shao Fei turns to him in disbelief, and he’s so stunned that the plate he’s washing falls from his slack grip. Luckily for the both of them, Tang Yi is fast, and he grabs the plate before it can break.
When he looks up again after turning the tap off, it’s to see a look of unbridled joy on Shao Fei’s face, and the knot in Tang Yi’s heart eases, because he is happy. Happy that he is able to finally, finally, give Shao Fei this.
“Aren’t you… aren’t you going to say it back?”
“You-“ Shao Fei tackles him, and Tang Yi catches him easily. “You don’t have the right to say that! You- I’ve been saying it for years!! Years, Tang, and you- I can’t believe you- Say it again!”
Tang Yi presses his forehead against Shao Fei, chuckling.
“Meng Shao Fei, I love you,” he murmurs, no less heartfelt than when he voiced it out earlier, and it is as true now as when he said it all those times before over the years, although never aloud.
“Show me?” Shao Fei asks, breathless.
“Gladly,” Tang Yi smiles, and carries Shao Fei out of the kitchen.