Chapter 1: PART I
花语 | huayu (n.) the language of flowers
The bite of snow was harsh against their faces the moment Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan stepped out of the hospital. It was December, after all, so the cold was to be expected. And frankly, Yibo didn’t mind. It was nice to have sex at home when it was cold outside.
“Ahhh, it’s freezing,” Xiao Zhan muttered under his breath, his nose pink and face a bit pale under the lights of the nearby streetlamps. He stuffed a gloved hand inside his coat pocket, the other one holding a paper bag of his old work shoes he had been meaning to bring home.
“Makes me crave for hot chocolate. And sex,” Wang Yibo voiced out, wriggling his eyebrows.
Xiao Zhan rolled his eyes, looking obviously resigned, but he only huffed, “You always crave for sex. You are so kinky.”
“Hey, I’m not that kinky,” Wang Yibo protested immediately, getting the paper bag from his grip and pulling Xiao Zhan’s hand out of his coat, lacing it with his and stuffing it inside his own pocket. “I may be perpetually horny but between the two of us, Zhan-ge, you’re the one who’s actually kink—”
“Okay, shut up, you—!” Xiao Zhan clamped a hand on Wang Yibo’s mouth, turning his next words into a fit of low chortles.
He was cute, Xiao Zhan. Being embarrassed about stuff like this when they were already married for three years. Wang Yibo didn’t really mind because 1. It was endearing. The fact that his husband always got red-faced when they talk about sex and lovemaking in public (even if no one was actually listening) made Wang Yibo warm and uncharacteristically giddy. Also, because 2. They were true. Xiao Zhan (he chose to not change his last name), was The Kinky One. You could even say he was an exhibitionist in bed, alright, and it never ceased to amuse (and arouse) Wang Yibo in all other ways.
The amazing part was, those were just a part of the long list. There were a million-and-one reasons he married Xiao Zhan and those things were just a few of them. But to be honest, Wang Yibo never knew the concrete why or how or when he chose Xiao Zhan of all people because feelings were complicated. Feelings were abstract. Especially his feelings for Xiao Zhan. They were always changing—ever growing. Intense, alive, hot, and electric. So when someone would ask him the very reason—why him? Why Xiao Zhan? Why kneel and ask his hand for marriage? Didn’t you two have some bad blood back then? Wang Yibo could never really tell why, exactly.
Or maybe he could. By telling them what he saw in moments like this.
Xiao Zhan; his smile peeking underneath the knitted scarf wound around his neck, eyes sparkling and forever curious staring at the falling snowflakes from the night sky above. The whisper and soft crumple of Xiao Zhan’s clothes as he settled in the passenger seat of their idling car, watching Wang Yibo get rid of the snow stuck on their windshield. Xiao Zhan; his snort and breath of laughter as Wang Yibo shivered and shouted a curse against the harsh cold, rushing to join him inside the car.
It had been five years since they met. Their first few meetings were amusing as they were shitty and it might be bothersome in retrospect. But as Xiao Zhan had always said, fate could be funny—one moment you just met a guy and decided you were gonna loathe him for the rest of your life and then the next, you were exchanging rings and vows of eternity with him.
It was funny, in a way, but they were here now and they were one and they were in love. The glint of the bands around their fingers was enough proof.
Xiao Zhan’s fingers were on the dashboard now, fiddling with the radio as he chose a station. When Wang Yibo heard the beginnings of a guitar softly strumming, Xiao Zhan precariously smiled to himself. He didn’t really like EDM and dubsteps; he sang as a hobby, and very well at that. He also preferred acoustic and ballads over electro-pop.
“It’s much more...emotional, you know?” Xiao Zhan would shrug when asked about his opinion in music. “I don’t know, don’t ask me. I just think I’d be more of a classic balladeer if I’m not stitching intestines and muscle tissues in the operating room.”
“You like EXO, though. They’re k-pop.” Wang Yibo would always quip and Xiao Zhan would hit him, not really denying it.
Xiao Zhan was a doctor. He had volunteered for various medical organizations in the country and even abroad since the beginning of his internship years but he realized he enjoyed and loved serving for the public ones the most. “More people suffer in public hospitals,” he had said. “It means more medical attention is needed there and—what? Don’t look at me like that! It’s true!”
Wang Yibo smirked at the memory, switching gears as he drove. Xiao Zhan was a good person. Clever, spontaneous and beautiful. A real-life Venus. He might look pretty soft because of his pretty face but he was actually tough as nails—no matter how clumsy he could be. Wang Yibo’s smirk grew as he absent-mindedly sang along with the song, a little out of tune.
“Ah, no. Stop singing—this is my part,”
Wang Yibo grinned, singing more loudly.
“Ahhhh—stoooop,” Xiao Zhan groaned. He was fighting back a grin behind a fist.
“Zhan-ge! You’re mean. I’m not that bad. I mean I’m not as good as you but, I can still sing—!”
“But you can’t sing the high notes!” Xiao Zhan pointed out, pulling his scarf off and running his fingers through his hair. It was getting longer.
“Who told you I can’t sing the high notes hah???” Wang Yibo reached out and pinched Xiao Zhan by the waist, making the other shriek. “And there are no high notes in this song, what the fuck??”
“Ne hyanggineun dalkomhan felony… neomu mipjiman saranghae~!”
“—Eoduun bami nal gadugi jeone, nae gyeoteul tteonajima—!” Wang Yibo mock-sang, trying to be off-key and raucous.
Xiao Zhan turned the volume up, his laugh echoing in the little space around them, and he sang along the song as well.
Wang Yibo whined loudly. “Hey, don’t sing—! You’re stealing my spotlight!”
“Geujeo nae gyeote stay with me..!”
“Oh and there he is,” Wang Yibo drawled. “You’re the real attention-hoarder, Zhan-ge...”
When the song faded to an end, Xiao Zhan was still laughing. “That is so ridiculous.”
Wang Yibo smiled, still bright-eyed.
For a few seconds, the couple was silent. And when Xiao Zhan turned his face to him, his face was serious and his eyes were unwavering. “I hate you,” he said.
Wang Yibo made a face. “No, you don’t.”
“I really do!” Xiao Zhan said, the edges of his mouth were upturning slightly.
“Oh yeah? And how can I woo you then?”
“I don’t know!” he snarked. “Don’t make me say weird things, Wang Yibo!” Xiao Zhan glared good-naturedly.
Wang Yibo grinned. His husband was so easy to tease. “Oi, I managed to make you marry me so I should say my wooing skills are topnotch.”
“Meh,” Xiao Zhan scrunched up his nose, “you are so full of yourself. For the record, I don’t know what came in my mind, marrying a kid...”
“I think I know why, actually. I pretty much remember you saying I’m good at rimming between our fourth and fifth date—”
Xiao Zhan’s scarf slapped against Wang Yibo’s chest. “I DIDN’T!” he growled. “ASSHOLE!”
“Yes, you did,” Wang Yibo laughed at Xiao Zhan’s flushed face. “Ai, why are you getting embarrassed? I know I’m good at—”
The bickering went on, peppered with Wang Yibo’s pathetic jokes and silly remarks and Xiao Zhan’s retorts and mild curses. It wasn’t difficult, their relationship. It was as easy and natural as breathing.
When the banter and laughter died down between them, tears were rolling down Xiao Zhan’s cheeks from laughing too much. Slowly, Wang Yibo switched gears again, and Xiao Zhan blinked around when Wang Yibo pulled the car on the sidewalk.
Wang Yibo reached out behind, at the backseat flooring, to get a big paper bag. He handed it to Xiao Zhan.
“What the hell is this?” Xiao Zhan blinked.
Wang Yibo didn’t answer. He stared ahead, a hand on the wheel.
When Xiao Zhan looked inside the bag, he discovered a big bouquet of forget-me-nots.
Speechless, Xiao Zhan brought the bouquet out, staring at it with too-bright eyes. “What is...” he whispered. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the bouquet.
“I,” Wang Yibo started, scratching his ear. He wasn’t embarrassed. Wang Yibo never got embarrassed. It was just, his stomach was in knots. “For you, Zhan-ge,” he finally said. “I figured I can be romantic sometimes,” he cleared his throat, lips twitching. “I don’t know if you’ll like it though,” he continued. “I mean, I never gave you a bouquet before. You never needed or asked for one, either, except when we exchanged vows so—”
There was a click, and after a second, Xiao Zhan was leaning in, having unfastened his seatbelt to reach his husband’s face to kiss him hard and long and slow.
Wang Yibo reciprocated automatically. It was instinct, the way he moved, reaching out to touch Xiao Zhan’s nape in place.
It was true that in the eyes of others, it was hard to pinpoint what made them fall head-over-heels in love with each other.
(Wang Yibo wasn’t exactly Xiao Zhan’s type to begin with. He could be demanding and a brat, which didn’t seem to impress Xiao Zhan at first. Wang Yibo didn’t like Xiao Zhan’s calm and collected demeanor either, the way he acted like he was so calculated about all the words he said.
It was so maddening.)
But Wang Yibo had a theory.
And that theory was about moments. Moments of impact.
Wang Yibo was not much of a romantic or any of that, really. But he believed that being in-love with someone shouldn’t be too concrete for it to be real. Wang Yibo believed that it just had to be genuine and everlasting.
Because for him, love was full of distinct moments and blurry memories you spent together—growing, maturing, and colliding with every piece of principle in life you were holding onto.
That sensation you felt when you were with that person. The pain and fear and exhilaration settling in the center of your bones when you realized that shit, I want to spend the rest of my life with this man and his flaws and imperfections and beauty altogether.
Xiao Zhan was made up of all of Wang Yibo’s moments of impact. Every little thing about him contradicted Wang Yibo’s sense of order and beliefs—or sometimes the lack thereof. They were a disruptive force together. They were each other’s game-changers.
Maybe that was why. Though it was still hard to explain through and through.
And Wang Yibo was holding on to that theory even as he saw the blinding light on the rearview mirror a little too late. As Xiao Zhan’s lips were abruptly dragged away from him. As he realized he became momentarily deaf and they were convulsing and everything was moving and something was plowing, crushing them from behind. As his eyes were forcefully shut and all he could hear above the white noise was a loud crash of glass against something solid. As the pain in his skull throbbed and pulled him under.
Wang Yibo couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe.
And he felt warmth trickling down his face as he willed his eyes to open again, just to see Xiao Zhan—his whole torso thrown outside the front hood of the car, past the broken edges of their windshield.
The air smelled thickly of iron and blood. Wang Yibo’s mouth was full of it, too.
Blue petals were falling all around them. Memories. Forget-me-nots. Ironic, really.
Light snow was still drifting outside.
Xiao Zhan, he called desperately. Only, it came out as a breath before the darkness clawed him out.
Then the sirens started to wail.
5 years ago
He was running the moment he was out of the operating room. Chucking the surgical mask and cap in the bin, his feet were moving fast, his heart thundering loudly in his chest.
“Didn’t you know? Your cousin is having a meeting right now with the rest of the committee.”
Xiao Zhan’s fingers almost faltered with stitching. “Cut,” he said to his scrub nurse, “Meeting?” he looked at his anesthesiologist. “What meeting?”
“Meeting. With the president of the Yuehua Corporation,”
“What? I thought the matter’s already settled—”
“Shit came up the past month, Xiao Zhan,” Xiao Zhan remained focused on his patient while words rattled off Wang Haoxuan. The guy was a bit of an egotist sometimes, but his words were always true. “The hospital’s numbers are falling, they said. Shame, really. I mean, everybody loves the hospital, even me; no one wants it to be taken down and be turned into some kind of a commercial joke and profit tool for the money-makers and the casino royales. But you know what they say, money’s money.”
“Lu-jie won’t let that happen.” Xiao Zhan had stated calmly but he was getting nervous.
“That’s interesting. Because I just heard that among the board of directors, it’s Xuan Lu who first signed the papers.”
That was why they scheduled Xiao Zhan’s six-hour surgery in the middle of the day. It was so he couldn’t interrupt the motherfucking meeting. Because they knew he would come barging in if he discovered. That was a smart plan, Xiao Zhan would give that to them. He wasn’t a shitty doctor. He always did his job well and they knew he wasn’t going to leave the OR in the middle of a life-or-death surgery just to interrupt something even if it could potentially cause the hospital’s downfall.
But Haoxuan’s words couldn’t be right. Xuan Lu wouldn’t let the hospital be sold.
It was already past four in the afternoon, and he was told the meeting started about two hours ago. He entrusted the surgery to his friend and colleague, Yu Bin and went off to see what the hell was going on. He still had time. It couldn’t be that fast to talk about everything. Please, he pleaded inwardly. Please don’t make that happen—
It was Wang Yizhou that Xiao Zhan saw first. He couldn’t make out his face from a distance, so Xiao Zhan jogged towards him as he stepped out the double doors of the conference room.
“Yizhou!” Xiao Zhan gasped. Yizhou looked at him, startled. “What happened? Where’s Lu-jie? Are they all still inside?”
“Xiao Zhan,” Yizhou said, his voice low and soft. Pity and sadness battling on his face. “It’s over—”
“What do you mean it’s over?” Xiao Zhan snapped, his rare temper flaring up. “They’re still inside, right? The meeting’s on-going, that means all of them are still debating about it—”
“Xiao Zhan,” Wang Yizhou said again. “There’s no debate. The papers were signed first thing in the meeting—”
“Cut the bullshit, Yizhou!” Xiao Zhan said. “Is their president still inside? I’m going to go in so I can enlighten him that the hospital is not for sale—”
“Xiao Zhan!” Wang Yizhou panicked, “The president didn’t come; he’s not there—” he held Xiao Zhan’s arms as he made a move to step in the conference room. “I told you, it’s over and they’ll be—”
The double-doors suddenly opened. The first one to exit was a tall woman. Her hair was locked in a bun, and her face was covered with meticulous make-up as if she was trying to mask her skin which was noticeably drained and pale. Her eyes widened when she saw Xiao Zhan struggling in Yizhou’s grip, still in his green surgical scrubs. There was a very faint smear of drying blood on his cheek he hadn’t managed to scrub off in haste.
“Xiao Zhan,” she began.
“Jie,” Xiao Zhan surged at her side; Wang Yizhou let him. “What the hell’s happening?” he said as the hospital’s committee members were stepping out the room one by one. Xiao Zhan can feel stares and murmurs all around them.
Xuan Lu couldn’t meet his eyes. “Zhanzhan, let’s talk about this in my office—”
“No,” Xiao Zhan said, his voice as hard as steel. The usual softness in his words were all gone. “We’ll talk about this now. You told me you’ll never let this happen! What did you do?”
“Xiao Zhan, please. Not here,” Xuan Lu’s voice shook. “You’ll understand it if you could just—”
The double doors opened once again, revealing a tall and unfamiliar man with short, brown hair, his bangs parted off center. He looked young. Like a son of one of the committee members.
Xuan Lu pursed her lips at the sight of him, and Xiao Zhan slitted his eyes. “Where’s that Yuehua president they are all talking about?” Xiao Zhan said, noticing the boy almost glancing at the sound of the corporation’s name. “Let me talk to him—”
“Xiao Zhan, just stop, please, he’s not even here—”
“His secretary, then? His representative? A minion?” Xiao Zhan pressed. “Show him to me, Lu-jie. Where the hell are they?” Xuan Lu was trying not to panic. She knew it was rare for Xiao Zhan to lose patience like this, and she also knew that every time it happened, it wasn’t a pretty sight. “Zhanzhan…” she tried to plead, eyes flitting towards the young guy who passed by. Xiao Zhan frowned. “Is that him? That guy over there?” He watched the young guy sauntered away, discreetly conversing with another tall guy who was carrying an attaché case.
Xiao Zhan was walking swiftly towards the two men before he knew it. They were in front of the elevators when Xiao Zhan caught up with them.
“Excuse me!” He called out, pausing a few meters away from them, his teeth clenched.
The attaché case guy was the one who turned to face him, but he didn’t say anything. Xiao Zhan’s eye ticked in annoyance. “Where is your boss?”
Attaché case guy blinked, almost sleepily, as he said something under his breath to the young man beside him.
“Well?” Xiao Zhan stepped closer, eyes livid, yet he was still trying so hard to contain himself.
It was attaché case guy who spoke. “Unfortunately,” he glanced briefly at the young man—(or boy? Xiao Zhan was getting a little distracted. Who exactly was he?)—who had his arms folded across his chest, staring calmly at the elevator doors ahead. “Laoban can’t attend the paper signing today—”
“Why, is he a coward?” Xiao Zhan said. Attaché case guy visibly winced at his words. “He can’t stomach overseeing the way he’ll ruin thousands of lives by demolishing the hospital and turning it to a casino? Hm? Is that why—?”
“Economics, politics, strategies and business,” the young man suddenly drawled, turning to look at Xiao Zhan. “I’m pretty sure they’re not your strong points, that’s why you can say those things right now, Xiao-boshi.”
Xiao Zhan’s knuckles were white. “What do you mean,” he said. His emotions were about to burst.
“I mean,” the young man continued, “You should’ve listened to Xuan Lu-xiaojie first before everything else because as I can see, she is the more capable one in understanding what is actually happening in your beloved institution,” he paused, smirking when Xiao Zhan couldn’t offer a retort. “In contrary to everyone’s belief: you can be stubborn and a little harebrained. You can also be shallow, seeing how emotions have overtaken you now. Don’t you think that is one of the reasons rumors say that you can’t be a candidate as a professor?” The smirk grew more malicious. “A good one can’t be rash, after all.”
“Don’t antagonize me,” Xiao Zhan said lowly, seeing red. He had to abort now. “Who do you think you are?”
“Wang Yibo,” the man inclined his head as a greeting. “I’m laoban’s second-in-command.”
“Well, Wang Yibo,” Xiao Zhan lifted his chin. He can barely keep it together. He slowly stepped closer, and he saw the other man with the attaché case almost backpedaling. Wang Yibo, on the other hand, was not as sensible. He was full-on facing Xiao Zhan now, his shoulders and arms relaxed, having unfold them and were now on his sides. He was still smiling; his eyes roaming Xiao Zhan as he covered the space between them. “I don’t care if I am rash and I am harebrained and I am stupid in all the things you deem more important than the lives and health of the population in this rural area.” Xiao Zhan took a deep, shaky breath. “No matter how small Chuanli is, it’s still not right for your corporation to exploit its weaknesses. Do you even know the traffic and general accident rate around this area ever since your casino popped out? No. You don’t. Because you don’t consider anything except economics, politics, strategies and business,” Xiao Zhan said. “You are all money-whores,” he continued. “I hate your boss and your company and I really hate you Wang Yibo.”
Slowly, Wang Yibo’s smirk turned into an evil grin. His eyes were blank, though. “I should admit, Xiao-boshi.” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I’m quite sad I had to hear that from you.” When Xiao Zhan didn’t say anything, he continued. “But you know what? That’s all rich. Coming from someone bearing the Xiao name himself. I wonder wh—”
It was fast, that first blow.
Yibo stumbled backward, having Xiao Zhan’s fist landed on his face. He ended up sprawled on the floor as Xiao Zhan swooped down and reached out to grab his shirt collar, eyes dark and unseeing, fist preparing to swing for a second blow—
The guards stopped him, unfortunately. He struggled, almost ripping his scrubs as he thrashed. It was only when he saw Xuan Lu and the board members watching the brutal scene unfurl in front of them that he stopped.
“Let go of me,” Xiao Zhan snarled, and the guards were still cautious around him. “Goddammit,” he cursed, and hurried away. He was crying silently.
The milling people scattered one by one, and Xuan Lu rushed to Wang Yibo’s aid.
“Wang Yibo-xiansheng, are you alright? You’re bleeding.”
“I’m alright,” he said calmly, standing up. “I’m fine, no need to worry.”
“Please let us bring you to the ER to treat the wound. I’m so sorry about my cousin. He’s not usually like that but the hospital is very close to his heart and he can’t take the news so lightly—”
“I can see that,” Wang Yibo said, slightly wincing at the pain on his busted lip and bleeding nose. “Your cousin sure knows how to punch, though,” he murmured, smirking inwardly. “I wonder about the rumors describing him as the most gentle, kindest, softest Dr. Venus...?” He could feel Yixuan rolling his eyes, having left his attaché case on the floor to assist Yibo.
You’re actually something, Xiao Zhan, he thought, and Wang Yibo was suddenly curious when he would be able to cross paths with the doctor again.
8 hours after the accident
“Please, sir, you can’t stand up, yet. Please don’t move! You can’t move without a wheelchair; your left leg is broken—”
“I said I’m fucking fine,” Wang Yibo snapped at the nurse fussing beside him. “Get me some goddamned crutches; I have to see my husband—”
“Sir, please! Oh my god your stitches are going to tear open, please sir— we’d have to strap you down if you don’t lie back—”
“I’d like to see you try strapping me down—”
“What’s happening here?” A doctor finally approached them. When she saw the scene, she glanced down at the file in her hands, and then looked back up at Wang Yibo.
“Wang Yibo, is that right?”
“Yes,” Wang Yibo said, voice strained. His neck throbbed. Maybe he shouldn’t have chucked the neck brace too soon.
For a moment, the doctor and the nurse were both quiet. Then, “I assume the other man you were with when the car accident happened is Xiao Zhan, based on the identification records found in your things—”
Wang Yibo’s stomach coiled at the sound of Xiao Zhan’s name but he has to stay calm for goodness’ sake. “Where is he,” he said. “Xiao Zhan. Where’s my husband? Is he alright?”
The doctor hesitated, lips pursed. “Xiao Zhan-xiansheng is alright for now, sir. He’s still breathing. He’s still alive. But as of the moment, he’s in the Intensive Care Unit, and he needs to rest.”
Wang Yibo could be a calm person. He could contain himself, to be honest, even if at times, (mostly with his husband) he was inanely chaotic and mischievous. Wang Yibo could be seen as cold and apathetic at the direst moments. But right now, he was in borderline panic. He almost didn’t want to ask, but he needed to. “How bad is he, doctor?” Images of Xiao Zhan: bloody, unconscious and half-a-body thrown outside the car surged up in Wang Yibo’s mind. “I won’t calm down until I see him.”
The doctor, resigned, looked at the nurse pointedly. “Get him a wheelchair, please,” she murmured.
“I’d prefer some crutches,” Wang Yibo said. “I feel fine.”
The doctor looked back at him, resigned. “Fine.” she sighed, and the nurse hurried away, getting Yibo some crutches. “I’ll tell you everything, Wang-xiansheng. Please wait for the crutches so we can see your husband after a moment.”
Wang Yibo lost track of time.
The doctor’s words were swimming inside his skull. He was by the glass window overlooking Xiao Zhan on the bed—connected with multiple tubes through his nose and mouth. He was also hooked up with some kind of IV fluid. The sound of the life support system continuously beeped and pumped generated oxygen for Xiao Zhan. Bandages covered most of his head and face. Yibo couldn’t see his hair under the thick layers of white cloth.
“Your husband got most of the impact and severities,” she had said. “As you can see, what you got was a broken leg, some wounds and lacerations, and a mild concussion. Most of them aren’t fatal.” She paused. “Xiao Zhan-xiansheng, on the other hand..”
Wang Yibo’s throat constricted. He knew the doctor wasn’t really trying to make him feel the guilt and despair. But those were what were seeping through him. He felt terrible.
“The most severe injury Xiao Zhan-xiansheng had acquired from the accident is the one on his head. There’s swelling and inflammation in the brain, and inter-hemorrhages in his medial temporal lobe,” she paused, choosing her words carefully. “As you see, your husband is now in a coma, but that is perfectly fine. We usually let the patients stay in a coma for a while just to let the inflammation subsides and to let the brain heal itself. It could be worse, I can tell; he is still very lucky. But.. we cannot still be sure until the patient wakes up…”
Wang Yibo opened his mouth slowly, “What are the chances that he’ll wake up?”
It looked like the doctor was expecting the question all along, but she smiled sadly, eyes soft and warm. “I’ll say you have a whole sixty percent, but as I said, we cannot confirm the extensive impairments involved.”
“Just make him live,” Yibo sounded almost desperate. “Just make him live and wake up. Xiao Zhan is strong, he can get past anything as long as he wakes up so, please do everything you can, doctor.”
The doctor nodded, glancing at Xiao Zhan. She hesitated. Then, “If I’m not mistaken, Wang-xiansheng, your husband is also a doctor, is that correct?”
Wang Yibo tore his gaze away from Xiao Zhan, glancing at the doctor beside him. “Do you know him?”
She smiled wistfully. “I met him once at a seminar, I think. His name is quite known around Chongqing and here in Beijing, since he is a Xiao, ” she paused. “I just never thought I’d get to meet him again like this.”
Wang Yibo wanted to smile reassuringly at her, but his strength to do so was drained. He couldn’t even put up a mask. “Don’t worry, doctor,” he said anyway, voice almost lifeless, turning to look back at Xiao Zhan. “You’ll get to meet him properly.” Xiao Zhan was stronger than they all expected. He had to wake up soon.
The kids were all rowdy. Wang Yibo didn’t know how Kim Sungjoo handled them every day.
“Can’t believe you got all the time and shit in the world and you choose to spend them taking care of kids…”
Sungjoo leaned back in his chair, smiling lightly at Wang Yibo’s words. “I don’t know. I enjoy taking care of them.”
“Uh huh.” Wang Yibo snorted, watching his friend eyed the orphans so fondly.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and Wang Yibo took an unexpected visit at one of his friend’s beloved orphanages he was sponsoring for. He wanted to talk and chill over booze or wine actually, but he could only settle for coffee. At least it didn’t taste shitty.
“How ‘bout you? Are you enjoying your new sideline?” Kim Sungjoo eyed him over the rim of his coffee cup.
There was a shriek of glee, and Wang Yibo snorted at a little girl (her name was Meimei if he remembered correctly) playing with a bunch of other kids in the garden. He shrugged nonchalantly at Sungjoo’s question. “I don’t know... So-so. It could be boring from time to time. Depends on my moods. But at least I’d get to race and dance.”
“And you and Yixuan aren’t Yuehua’s lapdogs anymore.”
Wang Yibo looked at him sharply. “I’ve never been their lapdog.”
Kim Sungjoo hummed, looking away and setting his cup down the coffee table. “Well, yeah. You’re you,” he agreed. “But you know what I mean, Yibo. At least you don’t get to do shitty things anymore.”
Wang Yibo’s lip twitched, almost smiling. “I didn’t leave because I don’t want to do shitty things anymore. I do shitty things all the time. You know that, hyung.”
Kim Sungjoo just raised a brow. “Uh-huh. Why’d you leave then?”
“Ahh… I don’t know,” Wang Yibo tilted his head in a carefree gesture. “I just felt like it’s starting to bore me.”
“You just said running your current studio could be tedious.”
“At least there I get to take lots of leaves and absences without anyone minding it. That alone is a plus.”
It looked as if Kim Sungjoo would want to retort more, but then his shoulders slumped a little, and he sighed lightly. “If you say so,” he said instead. “You’re lucky the chairman don't mind. And you have Seungyeon and Wenhan to handle your other shared businesses.” He shook his head. “Ah, the privilege of being an old money…” A pause. Then, “What about the hospital though?”
“What about the hospital?”
“You know that one in Tianjin?”
Wang Yibo shifted, draping his arms at the edges of the backrest of the couch he was sitting on, letting his head fall back. He stared at the ceiling fan above. “Oh. That. Demolished seven months ago, I guess.”
He didn’t see Kim Sungjoo’s reaction but the surprise was obvious in his voice. “Seriously?”
“That sucks...” the other guy said after a while. Of course, that would suck for him. Kim Sungjoo, one of Wang Yibo’s best friends since college, was the better man. He invested a good amount of his fortune in an orphanage, of all things, after all. “You really let that happen?”
“Well...” Wang Yibo said evasively. “It’s my job at the time. So I can’t really refuse, not exactly.” He shrugged again. He liked shrugging these days. It was effective if you didn’t really know what else to say.
Kim Sungjoo was quiet again, then, “You’re right. You did shitty things. You were heartless.” The words didn’t have venom. But still.
Wang Yibo lifted his head to look at Sungjoo across the coffee table. He didn’t try to be defensive. It was heartless.
But then Kim Sungjoo continued, “Not anymore, though.”
He blinked. “What do you mean?”
Sungjoo shrugged. Huh. People really liked shrugging. “I don’t know. Something changed. But you could still be a bastard.”
“Ai, you flatter me, hyung,” he said, smirking.
Wang Yibo shifted again, turning his body so he could prop his chin at the backrest, overlooking Sungjoo’s beloved children playing bubbles. Meimei was still shrieking out of mirth. They looked so happy. He wondered sometimes if he needed to go back to his youth in order to achieve that same level of happiness. He sighed inwardly, suddenly feeling gloomy and pouty.
Meimei was still laughing nearby and the sound almost drowned Sungjoo’s words at him. “…what about the doctor?”
Wang Yibo blinked, slowly turning his head to look back at his friend. “What about the doctor?” he repeated.
Kim Sungjoo’s cheek almost lifted. “That doctor you have a crush on. That one who can unexpectedly throw a punch.”
Wang Yibo continuously stared at his friend for a few seconds. When nobody said a word, Kim Sungjoo opened his mouth again and—
“Oh shut it.” Wang Yibo mildly scowled.
“Why?” Sungjoo smirked. He hated it when Sungjoo smirked. It was a rare occurrence but when he did, it would surely get on your nerves. “You never told us anything but I knew you. Yixuan and I knew you. That doctor did a good number, eh?”
Wang Yibo shook his head but he could feel himself getting amused at the memory itself.
“What, don’t tell me you managed to bed him already you son of a—”
He waved a hand, shaking his head no. “Nah, I didn’t. I never saw him again after he punched my lovely face.”
Kim Sungjoo blinked. “Oh... I see.” He frowned, but he smirked again. “You sound disappointed.”
“Sucks as well. You seem to really like him.”
Wang Yibo didn’t want to elaborate; he only hummed as he stared at his cup.
“Oh, come on. I know your type. You like...surprisingly stubborn ones. It gets you excited.”
Wang Yibo just smiled at him; eyes slitted in a malicious manner.
“You didn’t deny it.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s true.”
“Well then, I’m sure that’s not your one and only encounter. Fate isn’t that cruel.”
He laughed lowly, sipping his coffee and wincing as the taste hit his tongue once again. “Hyung...” he said, a grin starting to eat his face. “That’s not our first meeting, actually…
A blink. “Really?”
“No,” Yibo scowled. “Not really. I mean. I saw him before that incident in Tianjin.”
“He met you before that?”
“Uhh, no.. I don’t think so.”
“What? Thats... Wait a moment, were you stalking him or something—?”
“How, though? You never told us.”
“Hmm. I don’t know; I didn’t feel like sharing a memory of a pretty guy with you right then, so.”
Kim Sungjoo shook his head lightly. “You’re whipped.”
“I am not.”
“You really are. I didn’t believe Yixuan at first but—”
“Hyung!” he whined. “You’re mean to me! You’re not supposed to tease me! It’s usually Seungyeon who does that...!”
This was why Wang Yibo liked visiting the orphanage. Maybe it sucked a little because there was never a stock of alcohol, and sometimes the kids were all noisy and rowdy, but talks like this with his friends were always so easy. Wang Yibo would never dare admit it, but this was one of the few places that he could actually breathe a little easier.
Well maybe until that day.
Wang Yibo choked in his coffee, warm liquid spilling down his shirt and slacks. “What the fuck is he doing here?!” he coughed, eyes wide at the new comer. He was sipping a mouthful of his coffee when Meimei’s little shriek stole his attention again, making him glance at the garden. Only to witness the arrival of a new guy.
His hair was the same, so was his face that was as youthful as Wang Yibo remembered. He seemed taller from a distance but Wang Yibo knew he was only a centimeter or two taller than himself. He was grinning as he played with Meimei and the other kids. The children seemed to like him very much, and they were all trying to get his attention. He fit very well in the scene because he shone like a motherfucking sun: bright eyes, easy smile, white shirt and casual jeans and all.
Kim Sungjoo threw some wad of tissues nearby. “What? Xiao Zhan-boshi, you mean?”
Wang Yibo stopped gaping, turning to look at his friend. “You know him?”
Kim Sungjoo blinked. “What? Of course. Why would you—” he paused. “Hang on,” he said slowly, turning to look at the doctor who was currently playing with the children in the garden.
Wang Yibo’s friend wasn’t an idiot. The words he said to him a long while ago—tall, beautiful, sexy, secretly badass—were surely running in his head right now. Wang Yibo could almost pinpoint the exact moment Kim Sungjoo realized.
Finally, he said, “You’re bullshitting me, Wang Yibo.”
He could tell Kim Sungjoo was quite astonished because of the cuss. Cussing wasn’t his thing. But Wang Yibo only repeated: “What the fuck is he doing here?”
“He’s... a regular volunteer here, almost half a year now,” Kim Sungjoo managed. “He does monthly check-ups for the kids. He sometimes visits to play with them, like now. But—wait. You’re really bullshitting me. Don’t tell me that Xiao Zhan-boshi is actually that doctor you were...”
Wang Yibo didn’t answer; he stared back at him, at a loss for words.
“What the actual…”
Wang Yibo could flee. Because he was pretty sure the doctor would like to give him another blow in the face if he saw him right then and there. But he could also think of a few things to turn stuff around. It would sound pretty stupid but well, it’d been a boring week…
“No,” Kim Sungjoo finally said at his growing smirk. “Don’t think of anything right now Wang Yibo—”
“Hyung. You know you’re my bestest friend, right?”
Wang Yibo’s smile was terrifying and Kim Sungjoo could only sigh, resigned. “You’re going to get yourself killed. I hope you know that.”
Maybe, he had thought then. But I’m sure it’d be worth it.
Xiao Zhan was letting Meimei wipe his face clean of yellow paint when the door of the playroom opened unceremoniously.
“Okay, kids!” A cheery voice said, “Who wants some cake? Uncle Sungjoo has some cake and ice cream at the kitchen!”
Xiao Zhan frowned, turning to look at the speaker. “But it’s late; the kids wouldn’t be able to eat proper din—” The words froze in his lips when he saw whom he was talking to.
Xiao Zhan clenched his fists around the painting brush he was holding but was able to control his mouth until all the kids were out of the room.
When there were only the two of them inside, Xiao Zhan stood straight, eyes cold. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Wang Yibo grinned. “Oh, he remembers me,” he said. “And hey, that’s also the first thing that came out my mouth when I saw you earlier out in the garden.”
Xiao Zhan wasn’t going to attack. He couldn’t lash out here. He breathed in deeply, almost shaking with the effort. “What do you mean,” he said. “And of course, I remember you, Wang Yibo,” he added. “You’re one of the people who ruined the hospital.”
“Chuanli, you mean?” Wang Yibo stepped closer, looking up at the wall painting the kids and Xiao Zhan were finishing before he arrived. “That small, crumbling hospital in Tianjin?”
“What else,” Xiao Zhan said. Then he huffed. “Oh wait. Of course, you won’t vividly remember. Chuanli was only one of the hundreds of insignificant things you have to get rid of for your laoban, am I right?”
Wang Yibo didn’t answer immediately, merely standing near Xiao Zhan, hands in his pockets as he continuously stared at the wall. “I wouldn’t forget Chuanli,” he said quietly. If Xiao Zhan hadn’t witnessed firsthand this man’s cruelty, he could say his voice sounded a little somber and... regretful. “It’s the last job handed to me before I resigned as Yuehua’s second.”
Xiao Zhan slitted his eyes then he turned his back to him and continued to paint the outlined giraffe on the wall. His fingers were jerkier and rougher. He breathed through his nose as he said, “Doesn’t make you any less evil.”
“That’s similar to what Sungjoo-hyung said to me,” he heard him. “He said I was heartless,” he paused. “Oh, and he’s one of my best friends, if you’re gonna ask. Small world, ah? I didn’t know you volunteer here—”
Swiftly, Xiao Zhan turned to face him, and was surprised to realize that he was less than a meter away. “Look,” he started, relieved that the kids weren’t here anymore. “I’m trying to be as civil as I can, considering the circumstances but I don’t know what you’re playing at, okay? I seriously want to break your nose right now but I won’t. Because I’m trying to be a good example.”
“Aiyo,” Wang Yibo smirked. “Good example for what? The kids aren’t here anymore—”
Xiao Zhan exhaled an exasperated breath, harshly throwing his brush and palette at the wooden floor. Yibo glanced down at it before looking at him in mild surprise. “Are you shitting me? You’re bipolar, aren’t you?”
The bastard frowned. “What? No—”
“Then what are you doing?” Xiao Zhan scowled. “If you’re in the right mind and you already saw me, you will go away. You will not strike up a conversation with me. You will not come up to me while I’m holding anything that can be potentially used as a murder weapon.”
Wang Yibo blinked back, glancing momentarily at the brush and palette on the floor. He didn’t say anything.
“You really had the nerve to talk to me like you just didn’t—” Xiao Zhan stopped, closing his eyes. He wanted to say more. He wanted to gouge Wang Yibo’s eyes out. But he couldn’t. So he just breathed. He wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand, smearing the yellow paint left. “I can’t stand your face—” And he made a move to exit the room.
When Xiao Zhan was almost out the door, a hand held him tightly by his arm. “I just want to say I’m sorry,” Wang Yibo said in a rush. “I’m sorry. I know you hate me with every fiber of your being but I still want to say I’m sorry. It was stupid and cruel and heartless of me, what I did, what I said months ago. I didn’t mean any of them. That was a job, and I don’t—I can’t refuse. I should’ve, but I didn’t. So, I’m sorry. Really. Seriously.”
Xiao Zhan shifted, turning to glare at him and jerking his arms away from Yibo’s touch. “Tell that to every person’s life you ruined in Chuanli,” he said. “Not only the staff and residents. But also the long-term patients who already found their home there.”
And with that, Xiao Zhan walked out, barely noticing Kim Sungjoo—one of the major sponsors of the orphanage—leaning casually on the wall beside the door, arms folded and staring at the floor.
“I told you it won’t end well,” Kim Sungjoo hummed, entering the room. He found Yibo in the middle of it, staring at the wall canvas. He scanned the unfinished painting as well. “That doctor’s pretty good with his hands,” he murmured. Then, “Are you okay? Yibo?”
“Hm,” Wang Yibo hummed, hands still buried in his pockets.
“What are you going to do now?”
It took a while for him to answer. But when he did, his words were clear and sure: “I think I’d like to ask Xiao Zhan-boshi out on a date.”
Kim Sungjoo sighed, and shook his head slowly, clearly resigned. “Good god,” he said. “Yixuan was right. You really got it bad.”
Chapter 2: PART II
retribution (n.) punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong act
Sometime around seven in the morning, Xuan Lu arrived in the hospital, worried and almost hysterical.
“Yibo!” She gasped when she saw Yibo’s brooding figure sitting on his bed, having been examined by the doctor. “Yibo, where is he?” She asked, eyes fearful. “They said I still can’t see him and he’s still in the ICU? How the hell did he end up in the ICU!?”
“Lulu,” Wang Yibo interrupted. Like his husband, he had gotten used to calling her ‘Lu-jie’ oftentimes. But she was Lulu for him in the times that he needed her to listen, those times that he needed her to focus—fragile, vital times. Like now. “I saw him a few hours ago. He’s okay. He’s still in a coma.”
“How in the devil’s name did he become okay if he’s in a coma?” Xuan Lu demanded. “What the hell happened?”
“It was an accident like what I told you,” he said simply. “A truck lost control with its brakes when we’re parked on the sidewalk. Plowed the car through till we hit a post. Zhan-ge, he...got thrown off.” Wang Yibo’s voice cracked. He couldn’t continue.
“Wasn’t he wearing his seatbelt?” Xuan Lu frowned. “Why was he...?”
“...” Wang Yibo couldn’t offer an explanation.
Xuan Lu massaged her temples, closing her eyes. “God Almighty.”
Xuan Lu and Xiao Zhan weren’t exactly blood-related. Xuan Lu was only a distant relative in Xiao Zhan’s mother side but they grew up together as siblings, with Xuan Lu having been unofficially adopted by the Xiao family since they were very young. It was Xuan Lu who stood as a parent when they both moved out of the family residence five years ago, in the midst of Xiao Zhan’s medical residency.
Xuan Lu was a beautiful woman of grace and power. Before Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan became official, he would always think of her as a dangerous political asset and enemy, someone who was as poisonous as she was pretty. Through the years though, the mask was stripped off. It was revealed that yes, Xuan Lu could be as intimidating as she appeared to be but underneath it, she was always, always Xiao Zhan’s big sister. She was as gentle as her brother; sharing the same big heart and the genuine liking to help others. There had been a point in Wang Yibo’s life when he was still skirting around, courting Xiao Zhan that he became sure Xuan Lu would come at him for all his antics and stupidity around her precious brother.
At the moment though, the woman looked very scared and possibly a little unhinged. Wang Yibo didn’t know what better words to offer; he had been in the same predicament when he opened his eyes three hours ago.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. Xuan Lu suddenly looked at him, eyes widening a bit. Then she smiled sadly and shook her head, sitting beside him and enveloping him in a gentle hug.
“It’s not your fault, Yibo,” she whispered. “He’s going to wake up like what the doctors say. It’s not your fault.”
Wang Yibo couldn’t find the will to reply. He stared at the wall opposite him, face blank and heart heavy.
“Steady now...” the doctor crooned, and they all hovered around Xiao Zhan’s bed, watching him flutter his eyes open.
Yibo felt like a heavy load was lifted off his shoulders the moment he saw his husband wake up. Xiao Zhan was only sporting a thin layer of bandages now around his head but he still looked disoriented as his eyes blinked open slowly, slowly...
He felt Xuan Lu exhaling a breath of relief, and Wang Yibo felt the same.
“It’s okay... Xiao Zhan...” The doctor said as gently as possible. “Everything is alright. You’re in the hospital. You were in a car accident. You hit your head and you were in a coma for almost three weeks. How are you feeling right now?”
Xiao Zhan opened his mouth and closed it again. His face was mildly contorted in pain. Then, “Like shit,” they heard Xiao Zhan mutter, and Wang Yibo smiled, amused that his first words after a coma was a cuss. Xuan Lu laughed through her tears. “My head hurts...”
They all looked at the doctor. “That’s perfectly normal,” she smiled. “I’ll get you something for that,” and she stepped outside the room to get some medicine.
“Lu-jie,” Xiao Zhan suddenly said, eyes still unfocused. “Is anybody else hurt?” His voice was raspy.
Xuan Lu blinked, surprised at the sudden question but she surged forward, rubbing her cousin’s arm gently. “No one else, not really. The truck driver was in a better condition, I heard,” she said, voice uncertain. “Yibo recovered pretty quickly.”
Xiao Zhan frowned at that, “Who?” He said, and it took him a moment to notice Wang Yibo’s figure, standing at the foot of his bed, eyes a little glassy. He was smiling lightly.
“Hey,” Wang Yibo said.
Xiao Zhan blinked at him, scowling. “What—” he tried to swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing, “What the...hell are you...doing here?”
Wang Yibo blinked, stepping on Xiao Zhan’s side and reaching for his hand, “Hey, don’t worry about me, I’m okay—everything’s fine—”
“Don’t touch me—!” Xiao Zhan growled, recoiling at Wang Yibo’s touch. He stood frozen, shocked. “What are you doing here? Lu-jie—why is that bastard here—? I don’t remember—why is he—”
“Zhanzhan,” Xuan Lu rescued. “Zhanzhan—sshh, shhh—honey, calm down—stop thrashing—please calm dow—NURSE! DOCTOR! Yibo—the nurses—we need to sedate him—”
“No!” Xiao Zhan looked terrified now. “What do you mea—please don’t sedate me—I don’t understand—I can’t remember anything—” Xiao Zhan was panicking. “Lu-jie?! Why is that guy here—? You’re the one who did this to me, aren’t you? Don’t touch me! Bastard—!”
“Xiao Zhan, calm down!” Wang Yibo said loudly, lost and desperate all over again. He couldn’t understand what was happening. He didn’t give heed to the doctor and nurses barging into the room. “It’s me!” he said to Xiao Zhan. He moved to pin Xiao Zhan’s thrashing body down, eyes burning. He looked at him directly in the eyes, willing his husband to recall and understand and wake up. A dream, he thought. Zhan-ge is still trapped in a dream. “It’s me, it’s Yibo!”
“Gerroff me!” Xiao Zhan thrashed wilder. “I will never forget you! You’re the one who ruined Chuanli! I’ll never forgive you—!”
Xuan Lu and Yibo stood silent at that. Wang Yibo was still holding down Xiao Zhan by the shoulders in order for the nurses to sedate him if he continued. And then it was Xuan Lu who was brave enough to speak. “Zhanzhan,” she said, her words shaking. “That was years ago,” she breathed. “Yibo he’s...he is your husband.”
Xiao Zhan stilled at her words, face growing confused as ever. “What the hell are you talking about?” He said through his teeth. “What kind of a sick joke is this, Lu-jie? Because god help me, my head feels like it’s going to explode...”
Then Xiao Zhan noticed the band around Wang Yibo’s left ring finger. He was still holding him down the bed, knuckles white and head now ducked. The fringes of his hair covered his eyes.
Slowly, Xiao Zhan lifted his left hand, it shook as he saw an identical band around his ring finger, just atop another ring much thinner in size. He didn’t speak and he looked at Xuan Lu with wide, fearful eyes. “I don’t—understand—” he choked, calming down albeit lightly; he was still trembling. Xuan Lu put a hand over her mouth.
Wang Yibo had a theory.
Moments of impact.
He believed that these moments—these flashes of high impact—end up defining them as a person.
What he never considered—and he thought of this as he gently let Xiao Zhan go from pinning him on the bed, head still hanging low and eyes still blind and unseeing—was that, what if one day, these moments of impact… What if you can no longer remember any of them?
Xiao Zhan was all of his moments of impact.
But now, where would they go, now that he was all lost?
What would Wang Yibo do?
What would Wang Yibo be?
“I already told you, sir— We cannot fully confirm the extensive impairments that will be involved when he wakes up—”
“Impairments?” Wang Yibo rounded on their attending doctor, his face contorted in rage and despair. “Extensive impairments—that’s what you call it? He doesn’t fucking remember me!” he shouted in fury.
The doctor obviously flinched at his words as she tried to match his pace, striding along the hallways outside Xiao Zhan’s VIP room. “Sometimes, the inflammation and swelling affects the brain tissues so much—and considering the temporal lobe was affected, it was reasonable that his memories were affected as well—”
“Just stop,” Wang Yibo looked at her, broken and mad and lost. For the first time in a long time, he really, really wanted to cry. “I understand, okay?” He breathed. “I’m not a fucking—” he closed his eyes, a hand running on his face. He was suddenly so tired. “Zhan-ge—he’s..”
“I’m sorry, Wang-xiansheng.” Their doctor said, as gently but as firmly as possible, “We’re going to do our best in helping him recover and remember, I’m going to give you my word...”
A Styrofoam cup of steaming hot coffee appeared in front of Wang Yibo. When he looked up, Xuan Lu smiled at him. “You should go home and sleep, Yibo,” she said, sitting beside him.
He took the cup murmuring a thank-you. He had been going home but only for a little while; he didn’t want to stay away for too long.
Both didn’t say anything else for a long while. Then Wang Yibo decided to speak. “Is he asleep?”
He felt Xuan Lu nod, and he nodded as well.
They were on the benches right outside Xiao Zhan’s room. Wang Yibo was sitting beside the vending machine. He leaned his head toward it, feeling a constant thrum inside the metal box.
“Are you okay?” Xuan Lu said lowly, side-glancing him.
He almost wanted to laugh. “No,” Yibo said, “I’m not. Are you?”
Xuan Lu sighed. “Well, he woke up. And he’s alive. That’s what we prayed for.”
Wang Yibo nodded numbly. It was true; it’s only when Xiao Zhan was fifty-fifty that Yibo actually pleaded in the power of prayers. When hopelessness and desperation was starting to eat his soul and he was ready to bargain anything to every deity and god out there only to let Xiao Zhan live.
It seemed like they heard his prayers, though, the price was unexpected.
“How much can he remember?” He whispered. “You’ve been talking to him.”
Xuan Lu bristled, sighing. “His—his last memories are, about five years ago—right before you...”
“Well he does remember me,” Wang Yibo smiled bitterly. “Only he hates me so much. And he can’t stomach the idea that we’re married.”
“Yibo, Zhanzhan can’t really stomach the thought of marrying you five years ago, that’s a fact. But things changed, and you turned everything around—”
“And I’m supposed to be okay with that?” Wang Yibo turned to look at her, hurt. “Jie,” he continued. “What if he can’t remember me anymore? What if he never recalls? What will happen?”
Xuan Lu didn’t know what else to say. She pursed her lips, eyes shining.
“What about what happened to his parents,” Wang Yibo said after a while. “He remembers that one, right?”
He was met with silence, and when he realized what the silence meant, Yibo sighed loudly, running a hand through his hair.
“Are we going to tell him?” he sighed.
“I don’t know,” Xuan Lu croaked. “I don’t know . . .”
Someone poked Wang Yibo’s arm.
When he realized he had fallen asleep, he abruptly jerked awake— And was surprised to find Xiao Zhan standing, looking down at him with his IV post on his side. He must’ve dragged it all the way from the bed to the couches.
“Hey,” Wang Yibo said, rubbing his eyes sleepily but feeling suddenly alert. He stood up, almost reaching out to touch the small of Xiao Zhan’s back, but then he wavered, and let his arm fall awkwardly back at his side. He swallowed thickly. “Are you okay—?”
“Lu-jie’s not here,” Xiao Zhan said, eyeing him suspiciously, awkwardly. At least the hatred wasn’t there anymore, or at least it was hidden.
“Ah,” Wang Yibo said groggily, “Yeah, she...needs to go home for a bit. Food and rest and all.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t say anything, and just merely looked at him, mouth working. Then, “I’m kinda hungry.”
Wang Yibo blinked, then, “Oh. Yeah. Right—okay,” he nodded. “I’ll get you something—”
“No—I—uh— Can you...go with me down the...cafeteria. We need to talk as well.” Xiao Zhan said, looking away. His hair was getting longer; his front bangs curtaining his face, its luster gone at the moment. Wang Yibo wanted to run his fingers through Xiao Zhan’s hair. His fingers twitched but he did nothing.
“Yeah, of course,” Wang Yibo said, smiling slightly as he assisted Xiao Zhan with the IV post. “After you.”
They were sitting across each other over two empty ramen bowls and canned Cokes. There were no other people inside the cafeteria, and Wang Yibo could hear the faint ticking of the clock on the hanging wall near them.
Xiao Zhan was trying hard to look at him with a calm (although a bit doubtful) expression, arms folded across his chest. It didn’t fool him, however. He knew those eyes so well: Xiao Zhan was skeptical. He gave it no heed, though; his husband was usually skeptical or exasperated at him anyway. Only, his exasperation and skepticism were normally mixed with fondness which was absent now in Xiao Zhan’s face.
Wang Yibo busied himself instead in finding it a little unfair that Xiao Zhan was still as beautiful as ever—not-having-showered-for-weeks, healing sutures and all. He was growing a little stubble on his chin but it was almost nonexistent. He wanted to reach out and touch him very much. It almost ached.
“So I’ll get to the point,” Xiao Zhan started. “We’re married.”
Wang Yibo didn’t miss a beat, looking at him straight in the eyes. “Yes.”
“And I have longer hair?”
He blinked at that. “Uh, no, it’s... You usually give it a trim every two months or so...” he said, unsure if he should keep going. “But, yeah. It’s gotten longer now. You didn’t get the chance to cut it before the accident, so...” He paused. “And you haven’t washed it. Still pretty, though.”
Xiao Zhan frowned, lips thinning at his words. Wang Yibo waited patiently, not saying a word. Then after a moment, Xiao Zhan uncrossed his arms from his chest, shoulders sagging. “I want to apologize.”
“I’m sorry for what I... behaved...when I woke up.”
Wang Yibo found himself nodding, face still careful. “It’s okay, Zhan-ge. I understand.”
“...What did you call me?”
He let out a small smile. “Zhan-ge.”
“You…” Xiao Zhan scowled. “How old are you again?”
“And I’m… thirty-five now, right?” Xiao Zhan sounded uncertain.
Xiao Zhan was biting his inside cheek. “So,” he interrupted. “Who planned this?”
Wang Yibo almost frowned. “What?”
“This...whole thing. What kind of business strategy is this? I don’t understand what objective they have,” Xiao Zhan paused, mildly glaring at the table, and then he looked at him in the eyes. “Was it my parents? My father? I don’t understand how things had become, what actually happened—and what about Yizhou—?”
“Wait,” Wang Yibo interrupted. “What are you saying?”
Xiao Zhan’s left eye ticked. “Aren’t you listening?” he asked. “I’m saying—”
“No, I—” Wang Yibo leaned back on his seat, suddenly feeling the intensity of his exhaustion now; he ran a hand through his face, his fingers idly lingering on his mouth. Then swiftly, he stood up, dragging his chair closer to Xiao Zhan and sitting back down. Xiao Zhan raised his brows with the lessened space between them but at least he didn’t say a word. He only looked confused.
Wang Yibo wanted to hold Xiao Zhan’s hand. His chest was burning with longing and frustration but he knew he had to hold it all in for Xiao Zhan’s sake. So he breathed in deeply, choosing his next words carefully. “There’s no strategy or goal or anything like that, Zhan-ge.” Wang Yibo stared at him. “It’s true; you had hated me. For so long. And you gave me hell for a few months before you warmed up to me. Then we dated for a while. I proposed. And we got married in 2017... It’s—It’s not an arrangement or corporate strategy at all.”
Wang Yibo watched Xiao Zhan’s eyes widen the longer he explained. He watched him with terrifying hope and patience as Xiao Zhan’s knuckles went white with the growing tension. Disbelief was vivid in his eyes.
Xiao Zhan was silent for mere seconds, and then he schooled his face, trying to stay calm. Then, “I think you’ve always been so full of shit, Wang Yibo,” was his reply, almost a whisper. Then he stood up shakily, grabbing his IV post. “I knew coming up to apologize is just a waste of time—”
“No—” Wang Yibo pleaded, standing up as well. He halted Xiao Zhan by the elbows. “Look, Zhan-ge—listen to me—”
“ Don’t you touch me or I swear to god—”
“Zhan-ge—” he let go of him, fearing his husband’s words. “I know it’s hard to believe—”
“What’s wrong with you people?” Xiao Zhan said, looking up at him, eyes afire in cold rage. “Even Lu-jie’s been feeding me with this crap!”
Wang Yibo faltered.
“I feel like I can’t trust anyone right now,” Xiao Zhan almost moaned in frustration. “What I can remember—what I know —is being a three-year resident doctor at Chuanli, and living in Tianjin, and—and Yizhou—” he shook his head. “And now you’re all telling me that I wasn’t able to continue my residency at Chuanli, and I live in Beijing and we are fucking married. Can you imagine how absurd that sounds?”
Wang Yibo looked down, his fringes falling to cover his eyes.
“I don’t know you! You’re a—you’re a stranger. The last thing that I remember of you is that day in Chuanli when I punched your face because I lost control and I hate you so much,” he paused, chest heaving. “And now you expect me to believe that I willingly married you just like that? Along the fact that Chuanli was actually demolished five years ago because of you? I may have lost my memories, Wang Yibo, but I think I know myself.”
Wang Yibo could feel himself slipping, and again, for the first time in a long time, he didn’t know what else to do. “What can I say?” he said, voice cracking mid-question. “I just need you to have faith in me, ge. What do I need to do...?”
It was clear that Wang Yibo wasn’t the only one exhausted. “Just leave me alone for now, please.” Xiao Zhan looked away, “Just leave me alone.”
Wang Yibo knew there were a lot of ways to actually prove their marriage: photographs, and paper works and videos and even Xiao Zhan’s old colleagues and friends.
There were a lot of things and people and places that will stand witness to all those five years Xiao Zhan had forgotten.
Getting hold of proof wasn’t the problem. The conflict laid in Xiao Zhan himself. And Wang Yibo knew they both knew it. The denial, the anger, the disgust. It all confused him; it all consumed him inside, hindering all the emotions, feelings, and reality to flow.
Wang Yibo couldn’t blame Xiao Zhan, not really. It was all understandable in the first place, and Wang Yibo would never forget his husband’s faded hatred for him because of all those mistakes he committed a long time ago. But that was it: those happened a long time ago. They were all forgiven and forgotten. The slash and burn of his sins had already healed into a scar, only to be reopened now as a new wound, fresh and bleeding.
So Wang Yibo let it go. For now, anyway. It had been a few days since their heated conversation in the cafeteria and even if he couldn’t always come closer, Wang Yibo was always there, hovering around and assisting Xuan Lu in taking care of Xiao Zhan.
No other people were allowed to visit yet, considering the situation. They weren’t sure if Xiao Zhan was ready to meet people again, so it was only the main family who were allowed to visit. That was why one Saturday afternoon, when Wang Yibo came back to the hospital bringing a change of clothes for Xiao Zhan, he was surprised to be approached by the nurse to say that they were advised to not let other people go inside Xiao Zhan’s room.
Wang Yibo stared blankly at her. “I’m family,” he said simply, shifting to open the door. “I’m his husband.”
“But—sir, Mr. and Mrs. Xiao strictly told us not to—”
He froze. “They’re inside?” He asked, and he didn’t wait for an answer as he barged through the door.
“. . . so disappointed in you, Lulu. Didn’t you realize how worried we are—?” The sound of the door opening loudly halted the words of an old man, and four pairs of eyes landed on Yibo.
He kept his expression neutral, not wanting to give anything away. He looked at Xuan Lu, who was wearing a troubled face, sitting on a stool beside Xiao Zhan’s bed, gnawing her bottom lip but not saying anything else, then to Xiao Zhan, who looked immediately away, and was trying so hard not to look back at him...but failed.
“I brought some clothes,” Wang Yibo said, ignoring the fact that his husband’s parents were inside the same room.
“And who would you be, young mister?” Xiao Zhan’s mother said. She was a nice-looking little woman, hair dark and curling past her shoulders. Her eyes were dark onyx though, like her husband’s; Xiao Zhan was the only brown-eyed one in the family. The native Chongqing side also came from her, as Xiao Zhan spent almost all his life until his med school days in Yubei.
Xuan Lu stood up, “Auntie,” she began, words lilting differently. She was fluent in their dialect considering she was adopted and partly raised in Chongqing, but Xuan Lu used the dialect less since they moved out. She developed a bit of an accent, though not as strong as the rest of her family. “He’s Wang Yibo. He’s Xiao Zhan’s—”
“Hm. I see,” The father said, glaring up and down at him. “You’re the husband,” he stated. “Well then, Wang Yibo-xiansheng, we appreciate everything you’ve done and you’ve paid to the hospital up until now for our dear son. We are going to pay everything back, but right now we have private family matters to discuss and we’ll appreciate it if you can step outside—”
“Getting extremely ahead of yourselves now, aren’t you?”
Mr. Xiao turned red. “Excuse me?”
Xiao Zhan’s eyes widened slightly.
“Xiao Zhan’s right,” Wang Yibo hummed. “You lot aren’t used to playing the niceties despite all the riches and those bullshit, as he calls it.”
Xiao Zhan began to protest, not remembering such a thing but Wang Yibo continued, “But nice to meet you anyway. Sir. Ma’am.” His smile was sly, “I’m Wang Yibo, Xiao Zhan’s husband for three years now. I’ve heard a lot about you and I must admit I am very surprised to see you here. Not ideal for our first meeting, I should say but...”
Xiao Zhan looked confused. “Wait...you haven’t met my parents...?”
Wang Yibo’s malicious smile faded as he looked at him. “Considering the circumstances for the past few years, you believe I don’t need to meet them at all.”
“What?” Xiao Zhan looked at Xuan Lu. “Lu-jie? How come—?”
“You bastard,” Mr. Xiao said, trembling in rage. “How dare you? You cannot speak to me like that after what you’ve put my son through! Do you realize how shocking it was to hear secondhand that our son has been in the ICU for weeks because of you?”
“It was an accident,” Wang Yibo said hotly, his composure slipping.
“Accident or not, what’s done is done.” Mrs. Xiao snapped. “We are going to take A-Zhan home where I can fully take good care of him,” she looked at her son sitting troubled at the bed. “We’re going home, sweetie,” she said to him, “Don’t worry, darling.”
“Mama,” Xiao Zhan looked at his mother, eyes shining.
They began to talk in hush whispers, Mrs. Xiao patting her son’s head gently and affectionately. Wang Yibo shifted his gaze to Xiao Zhan’s father instead. “No,” he stated.
“What do you mean No?” Mr. Xiao scowled.
“No,” Wang Yibo repeated, much firmer. “My husband is not coming with you. He’s going home with me.”
Mr. Xiao opened his mouth—
“I assumed you already talked to his attending doctor,” he continued. “And I’m sure Xiao Zhan knows this as well. His doctor said in order to regain his health and stability, including his memories, he must go back to his normal life and routine. And that is with me. I am his normal life and routine.”
“But he doesn’t know you!” Mrs. Xiao burst out. “A-Zhan can’t even remember marrying you in the first place!”
“But that’s the point,” Wang Yibo pressed. “He will remember me if he only goes back to the way everything was before—”
“He doesn’t need to go back to the way everything was before!” Mrs. Xiao said. “I’m not going to entrust my son to a stranger! To someone he doesn’t even know himself!”
Wang Yibo looked at Xuan Lu for support, but she was still sitting in the corner, looking stricken at the ongoing exchange. Then he looked back at Mr. and Mrs. Xiao, “I suppose I should’ve expected this from you. You are all so selfish. So full of bullsh—”
“Can everybody just stop?!” A voice shouted loudly. It was Xiao Zhan. His hands were over his ears. “You’re all giving me a headache, and I need everyone to stop—bickering.” He breathed slowly, shoulders shaking.
Mrs. Xiao looked worried. “A-Zhan, darling, are you alright—?”
“Ma, just drop it,” he said. “Please... everybody... can you all just go outside the room? I don’t...” he exhaled, “Just please, I suddenly don’t feel well.”
Wang Yibo wanted to say something more, but then he looked at his husband—confused and fragile and trembling slightly—and it was him who left first. Xiao Zhan’s parents followed out after a few moments.
Xuan Lu didn’t move from her spot.
“Lu-jie,” Xiao Zhan started. “Please, just go. I need some time to breathe.”
Xuan Lu sighed deeply, looking at her brother’s weary figure. His hair needed to be trimmed; she remembered their younger days when they would play and she would trim his locks when it grew past the normal length. When he married though, it became Yibo who trimmed it sometimes. Which wasn’t often, she knew, since Yibo couldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors like he couldn’t be left in the kitchen. She would miss it sometimes, even now. But Xiao Zhan was happy, and everyone was happy, and Xuan Lu believed that entrusting her brother to Wang Yibo was the right decision. But then shit happened, and everything came spiraling down.
“You know what, Zhanzhan,” she said. “Even as your cousin—as your sister, I admit that sometimes, I still find it hard to understand you.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t say a word; he only stared back.
“That’s why even if you two seem impossible to be together at first, I know you’ve always been good for each other... everybody thought they knew you. That you’re easy to handle. That you’re just the kind, pretty, gentle doctor they knew. A good friend, brother, son... But truthfully, you’re different. You’re more than what you let anybody else see. So no one really understands.
“But Wang Yibo… He’s the only one who understands your pattern. He’s the only one who can go along with it, side by side.” She paused, smiling sadly. “And you’re the same for him, unsurprisingly. At first it’s hard to believe that you two can handle each other because...let’s be honest about it: Yibo is a handful one.” Xuan Lu laughed shakily. “I don’t understand it either but I see it. You two are always meant to be.
“You punched him the very first time you met him, I’m sure you remember that perfectly well since that’s the only memory you know of him but Xiao Zhan, let me tell you something. I feel disappointed. I feel despair. I feel regretful. Not at you, never at you. But I’m so mad at the world and at the fact that of all the things that life will take away, it chose those best memories of your life. And I feel angry about that, because I feel like you’ve been robbed of your whole happiness. Your whole soul.”
Xiao Zhan couldn’t hold Xuan Lu’s stare any longer. He looked down at the sheets, eyes getting blurry.
“You’re not a fool,” she continued. “Your husband isn’t, either. And he knows you’re afraid. He knows that you know everything we’re saying is true but you don’t want to believe it because you’re scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Xiao Zhan lied through gritted teeth. “Lu-jie, it’s just.. It’s just so unbelievable that I cut Mama and Papa out of my life, for five years!” He said, and Xuan Lu looked away. “And the way you say it, the way he tells it, it sounds like there’s no other reason behind the marriage—it sounds like—”
His cousin looked back at him. “Because there really is no other reason behind it! You lov—”
“Stop,” Xiao Zhan said loudly, his hands began trembling. “Just stop it, Lu-jie.” He paused. “I don’t know him. I don’t know him at all and I can’t just forget him being involved in Chuanli’s…—” he paused, swallowing a sob. “Jie, I don’t feel anything for him but hatred.”
No one spoke for a while. Then Xuan Lu stood up, her movements silent. “I see,” she said. “I will never ever say this in front of him but I feel sad and pitiful for your husband.” She paused. “I feel sad about everything.”
Xiao Zhan’s fingers were gripping the sheets so tightly. His breath was turning shallow. “Don’t be, Lu-jie,” he said, a little colder than usual. It didn’t sit right for him. “I didn’t forget you. And Mama and Papa. And everyone who is important to me.”
Xuan Lu sighed. “You remember half of your life, yes.” She said, smiling woefully. “But you must realize you lost half of it, too.”
21 December 2020; 09:56 PM
“Wang Yibo speaking; leave a message,”
“Yibo. Where are you? Our parents are in the hospital again. Xiao Zhan called me through the hospital phone a while ago. They’re—they’re already leaving. They’re discharging him tonight, and Xiao Zhan might go with them. I don’t know if I can make it in time, there has been one hell of a blizzard since this morning and—please. Hurry up. Don’t let them take him away. I know Xiao Zhan doesn’t remember, but I know if he does, I’m sure he will choose you over anyone else. Please. Stop them. I don’t know how, but I know you can convince him.
“I feel stupid because I can’t help you. I’m useless and I’m worthless and it’s always been Xiao Zhan who’s able to stand up against his parents ever since. But now he can’t. And you’re the only one who might make him remember.
“I’m counting on you, Yibo. I’m not asking this for me. Do this for him. Don’t let Xiao Zhan down.”
“Stupid,” Wang Yibo murmured lowly as he hastily pulled the car on reverse, getting off the curb and immediately speeding onto the highway. Tires screeched; his turn was almost illegal. Yibo couldn’t care less about receiving a ticket at the moment. “Stupid, Xuan Lu,” he said, the voicemail fading to a beep from his phone he threw on the dashboard. “Even if you hadn’t asked, I won’t let them take Xiao Zhan away.” Not now. Not ever.
He caught them up when they were wheeling Xiao Zhan out his room, sitting on a wheelchair.
“Xiao Zhan—” Wang Yibo gasped, his lungs still heaving from running.
“Wang-xiansheng” Mr. Xiao interrupted, glaring at him. “A-Zhan needs to rest now. There’s no reason for you to stick around—”
“No, please, Xiao Zhan—” Wang Yibo kneeled by Xiao Zhan’s wheelchair, grasping his hand by instinct. Xiao Zhan looked surprised but he didn’t recoil at the touch this time. “Look, I know you can’t remember anything. And I know you hate me right now and you want to go home with your parents,”
“Oh, good god,” Mrs. Xiao said. “Darling, please. You don’t need to listen to him—”
“Ma, stop,” Xiao Zhan said, and Yibo was a little bit surprised. His husband didn’t say anything to him, though, and only looked down at him expectantly. His face was blank, brows tending to furrow.
“Xiao Zhan,” Yibo tried again, squeezing Xiao Zhan’s hand with his own. “I don’t know if this will convince you or whatever good it’ll do but—” he pulled out his phone, fiddled it for a bit, “This is a voicemail you sent before the accident. It’s not much, but—” he pressed play.
Beep— “Hey,” Xiao Zhan’s own voice sounded. The smile was obvious in it. Xiao Zhan himself looked startled, looking at the device in Yibo’s hand. “I’m at the cafeteria; it’s my break, been eating that tofu you prepared...and you know what? Sungjoo’s right. It’s pretty okay. I mean, I’m surprised, but I added soy sauce to the whole thing like what you said and it’s really good. Surprisingly.” A sigh. “What time you’ll get home? I want some you-know-what time tonight, yeah? Maybe after a massage? Ah, god, my back hurts—hnng—Yu Bin’s looking this way, probably wondering why I’m red and smiling stupidly while talking to my phone. He probably thinks we’re having phone sex right in front of my lunch. Which is gross. Anyway. I’m going. My time is almost up and I need to prep for another minor surgery later. See you tonight...Love you.”
The voicemail ended, and Yibo stood up gingerly, looking down at Xiao Zhan.
It was Mr. Xiao who spoke first. “And so what. Xiao Zhan can’t even remember any of that!” He looked flustered, probably from the context of Xiao Zhan’s words from the voicemail.
“That’s right,” Mrs. Xiao said, nose up. “Xiao Zhan... there’s no need for you to be bothered—”
“Ma,” Xiao Zhan interrupted, looking up at his parents from the wheelchair. He smiled, sighing through his nose. “It’s okay, now,” he spoke. “I’m going with him.”
Wang Yibo’s heart felt like it was going to burst. It fucking hurt in a good way.
Xiao Zhan shifted, looking up at him again. His ears burned, realizing their hands were still linked. Coughing, he extracted his hands from Yibo’s grasp. Yibo almost didn’t let go, but he did. “I’ll go with you,” Xiao Zhan said simply, his words clipped. Then his mouth contorted. “I don’t know how I ended up with you but... I seemed...” he paused, looking really uncertain. “I seemed happy.”
You are, Wang Yibo almost said. We are.
Xiao Zhan’s mother almost stumbled, kneeling in front of her son and taking his gaunt yet beautiful face in her palms. “A-Zhan, honey.” she said, starting to cry. “You don’t need to do this. Papa and I will take care of you this time. I promise everything will be okay now. We’ll even ask Lulu to move with her fiance. Your father is... I will not...” she struggled with her words, still pleading. “I don’t wanna lose you again, A-Zhan—”
Wang Yibo looked away. He almost felt guilty if only for this picture with Xiao Zhan’s mother crying for him. But, no. He suddenly remembered everything, and he decided he couldn’t let Xiao Zhan go.
“Ma,” Xiao Zhan said, looking conflicted. “Don’t say that. I don’t know what happened, but you never lost me. You never will. Okay? Stop crying now, please...”
Wang Yibo repressed a sigh, watching the scene unfold in front of him, and he wondered what would happen to them next.
This is going to be a bad idea. That was the first thought that came up in Xiao Zhan’s mind when Yibo started the ignition of his car. At least Yibo had fine tastes in cars. It was a sleek Prius, probably brand new. The smell of leather and something like tropical green tea and magnolias were faint. Xiao Zhan tried to breathe evenly while staring at his reflection on the side mirror, frowning at the sutures on his face.
He imperceptibly scrutinized everything, rather impressed. “Nice car,” Xiao Zhan commented.
Wang Yibo’s mouth twitched in a smile, changing gears and pulling them off the parking lot. “Actually, this is yours.”
Xiao Zhan blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“This car. It’s yours. My Audi crashed when we’re inside it, remember?”
Xiao Zhan scowled. “No, I don’t, actually.” He grumbled, looking more at his car’s interior. A Prius, huh. He thought he would still own a Volvo.
There was a pregnant pause, and Xiao Zhan wasn’t sure if he should keep the ball rolling. But before he could open his mouth again, Wang Yibo spoke. “Stop thinking too much,” he said.
“I’m not,” Xiao Zhan said, defensive.
“You are. I know your face when you’re thinking too much.”
Xiao Zhan bit his inside cheek. “Uh huh?” He said. “You seem to know many things about me.”
“Of course. We’re married.”
“Don’t remind me,” he mumbled.
“Why not,” Yibo’s voice didn’t sound offended, but his timbre changed a bit. “That’s the truth.”
“I know,” Xiao Zhan scowled. “But it’s just a lot to take in, okay? I’m not used to it.” He paused. “So... where do we live?” He glanced outside, as if the sight of the passing commercial buildings would give him some sense of familiarity. They didn’t; he just grew frustrated.
“At Haidian,” Wang Yibo said simply. “You wanted to be as close as you can with Shunyi Public Hospital.”
“Haidian...” Xiao Zhan said, racking his brain and finding nothing. “Wait, are we in an apartment? Condominium?”
“Yeah, we own a penthouse unit. You purposefully picked the place so you can have an adjoining studio and you’d be near the hospital.”
“Wait a moment. I permanently work at Shunyi?”
“Yes. You love working for public institutes the most.”
“I—” Xiao Zhan frowned, “I thought about it when I was at Chuanli but... I don’t think I’ve ever concluded a concrete idea that…” he shook his head, perplexed. “I mean, what about Chang-an? I thought I promised my father I’d go back after a while?”
Wang Yibo seemed to pause for a second, wording his reply carefully. “Yeah...but, ever since you started going to the orphanage, you said you really wanted to work...somewhere else.”
Xiao Zhan kept scowling. Chang-an was a hospital his family helped building. He had always promised his father he would spend the rest of his time there right after he served Chuanli for a few years. “Right,” he said, unconvinced. “And—studio? I own a studio?”
“The studio. Well, it’s for your art. You decided to have a studio space for your pieces. It’s not much, just a hobby, like your singing.”
“A hobby...” he hummed.
Wang Yibo glanced at him momentarily, then he stepped on the brakes gently, stopping on a red light. “Yeah. You’ve always loved art and painting and the idea of a proper art studio started from a hobby at the orphanage as well, creating murals and all. It was Sungjoo-hyung who convinced you to try and release some small pieces, and unsurprisingly, it sells. Though it’s not your priority. You’ve been busy with the hospital, anyway.”
“What’s this orphanage? It seemed to have...influenced me a lot. Who is Sungjoo?”
“The orphanage is located around Yanqing. Well, er, you started volunteering there after Chuanli was demolished. You said you just want to get your mind off things, but then you got attached with the kids, and you also started applying to public hospitals to continue your residency.”
Xiao Zhan’s brows furrowed. He couldn’t recall any of these. He couldn’t even form a proper response. Wang Yibo’s words were confusing him more and more. “And Sungjoo?” he asked again.
“He’s one of my best friends. And incidentally one of the orphanage’s major sponsors,” Wang Yibo supplied. “That’s how we met again. At the orphanage. A few months after Chuanli was demolished. You hated me then.”
I might hate you even now. Xiao Zhan felt a pang in his heart, remembering Chuanli all over again.
Wang Yibo side-glanced at him. “Anyway, you’ll meet him again soon. Same with Yixuan, he’s also one of my closest friends and a former colleague when I worked for Yuehua. They’ve been worried about you. The kids miss you as well.”
Xiao Zhan frowned at the mention of Yuehua corporation but then he balked. “Wait, what the hell, I thought we don’t have...kids?”
“We don’t,” Wang Yibo assured quickly. “I mean the kids from the orphanage...”
Xiao Zhan felt his ears go hot, then he folded his arms around him, determinedly looking outside. “I don’t...” he said quietly. “I think I’m freaking out.” He paused. “There’s just so much I don’t know. The places...the people. Even my work and hobbies. They all changed. I didn’t realize I changed this much,” he sighed, “I mean, the last time I wanted to have a studio, I was in High School. And I didn’t think I was serious about it before. I actually thought I wanted to be an idol back then. So now—”
“Oh, you still entertain the idea of being an idol until now, sometimes,” Wang Yibo’s grin flashed in the darkness of the car. He put on more gas; the orange lights of the passing billboards and street lamps accented Wang Yibo’s jaw and nose line. “You learned the piano by ear.”
Xiao Zhan looked at him, clearly surprised. “Really?”
Wang Yibo merely shrugged, smirking. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re talented, Zhan-ge. You should know that even now.”
Xiao Zhan scoffed, surprised that he said that. “Are you mocking me, Wang Yibo?”
“No,” Wang Yibo’s smile turned lopsided.
“You’re making fun of me.”
“I’m not, Zhan-ge. I mean, okay. I always tease you, but I never make fun of you. You’re just adorable.”
“I’m—” Xiao Zhan sputtered. “I’m not adorable,” he almost growled.
Wang Yibo grinned at him, lifting his hands in surrender.
“Get your hands on the wheel!” Xiao Zhan snapped, “And eyes on the road, you—!” he said. “They shouldn’t have let you drive yet, you gremlin...”
Wang Yibo stayed quiet at the mild insult, not saying a thing. Then he smirked, eyes distant. “Funny. Fate offered you an opportunity to think of some new exciting insults to throw at your husband but you still ended up calling me the same insult like before.”
When his words sank in, Xiao Zhan looked at him. “I’m not going to say sorry this time,” he huffed. “You are a gremlin. You like mocking, antagonizing and teasing others. That much, I’m sure.”
Wang Yibo didn’t answer immediately. Then the lopsided smile appeared again. “You like me for all of those, you know.”
A heartbeat. “What? What do you mean?”
Wang Yibo smiled impishly. “All those annoying traits I have. You like them so damn much you decided to marry me,” he said. “Those and my handsome face, of course.”
Immediately, Xiao Zhan’s curiosity for a proper response was replaced by exasperation. “Oh shut it,” Xiao Zhan said and Wang Yibo just laughed at his glaring face.
The tension eased bearably enough for Xiao Zhan to relax as they continued to bicker on their way home. It surprised him, in a way, because somehow, Yibo knew indeed how to maneuver him. He knew what to say to make Xiao Zhan tick and he knew the right timing to stop. It was uncomfortable as it was convenient, in a way. It made him feel vulnerable and very, very exposed while feeling this illusion of safety. Xiao Zhan wasn’t sure if he was okay with that. Besides, he still hadn’t decided if he actually liked Wang Yibo or not. He seemed to have memorized all of Xiao Zhan’s moods and expressions, but he couldn’t tell yet if that was just tolerable or potentially likeable. He felt a migraine coming.
Apparently, Wang Yibo ran a famous entertainment agency with two other friends named Cho Seungyeon and Li Wenhan. It started out very small, but then business boomed and names were spread and they were later absorbed by a larger corporation which made them more successful and popular. He also owned some small businesses in Shanghai and Wuhan, and had invested a quite amount of his fortune to some starting corporations in Southeast Asia and America. Wang Yibo was old money, like Xiao Zhan himself. His parents were managing their own businesses in Luoyang, Henan.
“It’s not just mine,” Wang Yibo pointed out to him about his assets. “What’s mine is yours, keep that in mind.”
Xiao Zhan chose to not comment, not wanting to emphasize that he was a licensed doctor, thank you very much, and Yibo could go drown himself with his own money and investments. He could fend for himself. “You ought to be a busy man, being such a wealthy business owner.”
Yibo shrugged. “I have my own people. They’re the ones who mainly make our investments circulate, though I have my role from time to time. I don’t really need to move around to make money. I only need to trust the right people.” A pause. “I race as well, by the way,” Wang Yibo added as an afterthought, smirking.
“Race. Motorbike. Asia Road Racing competitions. I’m under Yamaha.”
“Wow.” Xiao Zhan glanced at him. “That’s impressive.”
“Thank you,” Wang Yibo grinned.
“...Are there any...more surprising things I should know about you…?”
Xiao Zhan felt Wang Yibo’s smile grow broader. “Oh, there’s a lot, ge.” he bragged. “But I’m afraid you’d have to discover half of them on your own, in the privacy of our own room and—”
“Agh,” Xiao Zhan groaned. “Please… I—don’t appreciate any...sexual jokes right now. This isn’t the time. I know you feel comfortable with me already but I’m not—”
“Sexual jokes—who’s thinking of sexual jokes?” Yibo chortled. “I didn’t really say anything explicit you know? It’s just you who’s been thinking about it—”
“Okay, stop. I got it. Let’s not—”
“—and it makes me curious… why’d you suddenly think about sex—”
The one-and-a-half hour drive was exhausting.
Xiao Zhan fell asleep halfway, and was only awakened by fingers skimming his face. He almost recoiled again but he found himself inexplicably leaning towards the warmth so he only shifted, looking away. Wang Yibo didn’t say anything.
Their condominium building was fairly high. It was also flashy and modern yet minimalist, in a way. The building was nestled almost in the city outskirts but not very far from the center itself. The area was surprisingly calm and quiet; the sheer lights of the bustling city hidden away but not entirely so. Xiao Zhan secretly liked it.
He became nervous when they stepped together on the lift. When the elevator opened, Xiao Zhan realized his heart was beating fast. He was in a haze as he exited the lift. The lights automatically turned on, illuminating their way to the main entrance of their suite and his steps were tentative as he looked around.
Their unit was simple yet spacious, and wooden floorboards ran in the entirety of the floor. The left wing opened to a kitchen and dining room combined, complete with a polished kitchen counter and lots of luxurious kitchen decors. There was a massive display cabinet containing an impressive amount of...motorcycle helmets. A magnificent vintage turntable stood near a television set.
“That was all yours,” Wang Yibo said lowly when Xiao Zhan was intently looking at a shelf crammed with books.
Xiao Zhan only nodded. Then, “The helmets,” his eyes averted, murmuring. “Their yours?”
“Yes.” Wang Yibo confirmed. “You hated it when we moved in together and you’d see them lying around so you...put them all in one place.”
Grandeur wasn’t something rare for Xiao Zhan. Though not spoiled, he grew up in a wealthy family where opulence was normal. So he wasn’t surprised, at least. If anything, he was relieved. At least he could be sure in one thing: that this suite was definitely his. Well, Yibo’s and his. But at least he knew his own style and tastes in interior and home decor. That clearly hadn’t changed through the years.
The sound of curtains being drawn brought Xiao Zhan back from his thoughts, and he realized that the unit was mostly surrounded with floor-to-ceiling windows. He raised his brows at the cityscape outside.
The right wing, meanwhile, consisted of three doors. The one was a simple toilet and bath and the second one was some kind of a cross between a mini library and a storage room. The third one was locked.
Xiao Zhan glanced at him; the question obvious in his eyes. “That’s your adjoined studio,” Wang Yibo answered automatically, looking at him almost somberly.
Xiao Zhan didn’t say anything back and for some reasons, he didn’t ask him to open it. Not today, he thought.
A marble staircase led them upstairs. The second deck only spanned on the left wing of the unit, leaving the entire living room vast, height-wise.
There were only two rooms upstairs—one being a guest room—and like his studio downstairs, Xiao Zhan almost didn’t want to open the main one. This must be the master’s bedroom, he realized, and he faltered for a second, looking at Wang Yibo once more.
Wang Yibo didn’t say anything else but his eyes told Xiao Zhan to go on.
Inside was like stepping in a whirlwind of memories.
He didn’t feel any nostalgia or a flash of familiarity, no, yet his eyes went wide when the lights were turned on.
It was an ordinary room. Clean and spacious. The rest of the furniture and king-sized bed were normal-looking. He recognized that tang of fragrance he smelled in the Prius, though right now, it was mixed with a faint smell of...fresh linens and laundry detergent.
That was not what made it feel like stepping in a myriad of memories and colors, though.
It was those Polaroid pictures. Lots of them, collaged and stuck on a large wooden panel hanging on one side of the room. There were also more photographs and notes and even medical prescriptions on the full-size mirror at the left corner. Xiao Zhan wanted to get a closer look, but he realized he couldn’t move his feet. Words wouldn’t come out of his throat, and his head began spinning. Here was the migraine he was expecting earlier.
But he stood his ground, still looking around. Xiao Zhan swiveled himself, gaze devouring the random Polaroids laid out in front of him: a young girl, a flower vase, a motorcycle...
Then there were pictures of him. Of Xiao Zhan with other people he couldn’t, for the life of him, remember at all. There was a picture of himself standing on a balcony, a glittering night skyline behind him, the city lights seemingly dancing with glee. He was wearing an oversized t-shirt, a fedora and nothing else; his legs bare and smile coy as he raised a bottle of alcohol (Vodka? Tequila?) as a mock-toast to the one taking the picture. Colorado, 2017, the scrawled caption beneath the Polaroid said. Another picture was of Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, seemingly shirtless and rugged and lying on a soft white mattress. Wang Yibo was grinning, a hand aloft, taking the picture itself and the other one squashing Xiao Zhan’s jaw and cheek into a mussed and forced smile.
There were more images, all unrecognizable and erased from Xiao Zhan’s memory. It made him feel so empty, somehow, seeing all these concrete evidences but feeling like everything was still a lie.
He felt so unsure of himself. He felt so stupid and useless. Why couldn’t he remember? Why couldn’t he recognize anything?
Xiao Zhan slowly trudged forward, his eyes glued to a certain image of him arm-in-arm with Wang Yibo and Xuan Lu, plus a tall serious-looking man he assumed to be his cousin’s fiance. He looked familiar. They were all wearing parkas and scarves. Sapporo Snow Festival, 2018.
After a while, Xiao Zhan found his voice. “Did you do this?” he breathed.
Wang Yibo just stood on the room’s entryway, leaning on the door with his arms across his chest. “What do you mean?” Yibo said.
“All of these,” Xiao Zhan said, eyes still fixed on the photographs. “Did you—did you put these all up—?”
“No,” Wang Yibo said, straightening up, arms falling by his sides. “You’re the one who put these all up,” he continued. “Nothing changed in this room when you were...away.”
Slowly, Xiao Zhan turned, looking at him. “I can’t remember,” he almost croaked. “I’m sorry.”
Wang Yibo sighed, looking down for a moment. When he looked up, his eyes were unreadable. “Don’t apologize. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
Xiao Zhan bit his lip. “I know. I have nothing to be sorry about; I didn’t want any of this to happen,” he shook his head slowly. “But I still can’t remember anything.” He paused. “Doesn’t it bother you? I can’t recognize all of these people apart from myself and my sister. I can’t recognize that life you’re telling me about—”
“I don’t care.” Wang Yibo said firmly. He didn’t shout, he didn’t even raise his voice, but his words were full of conviction, and Xiao Zhan was surprised to feel his knees go weak. He wanted to sit down. “I don’t care. I know you’ll recognize all of these soon. If you think that I’m just going to give you up so easily then you’re wrong.” Wang Yibo paused. Then, “I love you,” he said. Xiao Zhan suppressed his shock at the words. He said it so easily and firmly, with no ounce of doubt and shame at all. He hated that something just came up clawing in his chest. “You might have forgotten that but I’m telling you now: I love you and I’m not going to give up on you, Xiao Zhan. Never. Most especially now.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer. He didn’t want to answer. The nerve of this guy, he thought. But: I know, a tiny subconscious voice whispered in his ear. He pushed it away, angered, embarrassed and confused, but it kept barging up in his brain. I know... I know... I know...
“I know,” Xiao Zhan conceded, trying to sound nonchalant. “You made it very clear and obvious, after all.” His face was full of terrifying apathy. “But... I don’t,” he continued. “Feel anything for you, I mean.”
Wang Yibo kept on looking at him, tongue-tied.
“But honestly, I do feel sorry,” Xiao Zhan continued. “But I can’t feel any guilt. And that’s why I’m sorry,” he said. “I chose to go with you because I want to see how things have become. Maybe there’s a reason, after all. Some kind of a catch. But,” he looked away, gazing at the Polaroids apprehensively. “I—I can’t—feel and recognize anything—”
“Liar,” Wang Yibo said. Xiao Zhan looked back at him quickly. “You’ve never been a good one, though.”
“I’m telling the truth,” Xiao Zhan replied calmly. “I am seeing everything but they’re all meaningless to me. I feel nothing—”
Then suddenly— “Zhan-ge,” Wang Yibo closed the distance between them with only a few strides. Xiao Zhan wasn’t able to back away when Wang Yibo held him by the shoulders, their bodies closer than ever in an uncertain embrace. “You’re underestimating our five years.” And Xiao Zhan was shocked by the raw plea that sounded in Wang Yibo’s voice. His hands shook lightly. Desperate. The calm act finally falling down. “I know you, and I know you felt something. Please say you felt at least something—”
Xiao Zhan couldn’t look at those eyes. He felt like he would drown in those depths. “I don’t—” he shrunk, looking away. “I’m tired,” he breathed. “Yibo. Please let go. I just—”
“Xiao Zhan. Look at me. No—look at me and say those words again—”
“Look at me—”
Xiao Zhan’s voice rang around them, almost echoing. He could smack or punch Wang Yibo on the face; he could break his arm, or his wrist if he really wanted to. But Xiao Zhan only shouted a please.
And that was enough for Wang Yibo to let go.
“I’m sorry,” Xiao Zhan’s supposed-husband said. “I’ll let you rest now.” And he left.
Xiao Zhan assumed Wang Yibo took the guest room. The other side of the bed remained unoccupied all throughout the night and in all honesty, Xiao Zhan felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It might’ve seemed rude, or cruel but he didn’t think he could sleep with Wang Yibo on the same bed right now.
Still, his night was restless. Unfamiliarity ran deep in his bones as he stared at the ceiling, and no matter how tired his whole body was, his mind couldn’t seem to stop thinking, reeling. He fell asleep at half past three.
The next morning when he woke up, he decided to take a shower before going out of the room. The entire walk-in closet was made of mirrors. He cringed at the sight of his face: pale, almost gaunt, with his hair damp and still dripping wet from his bath. He had also gotten a shock when he saw that damn tattoo between his shoulder blades. He only had some decent boxers on and was angling around to take a good look at that stupid tattoo, murmuring a Mama’s going to freak out when the door slid open, revealing a one yawning, bedraggled and very naked Wang Yibo.
“Good morn—” Wang Yibo was grumbling when a damp towel was tossed at his face. He looked surprised, blinking back at him when the towel hit the floor.
“What the hell are you doing—you’re—I’m—! You should’ve knocked!” Xiao Zhan snapped, having turned his flushed face, averting his gaze elsewhere.
Wang Yibo blinked slowly. “What,” he said. Then realization hit him slowly, looking down at his state of nakedness. Xiao Zhan could feel him fighting a smirk. “Oh, I’m...sorry?” he scratched his jaw, still not making any effort in covering himself up. He shook his head lightly, walking towards Xiao Zhan and reaching out for a clean towel in the cabinet behind him. “Just a habit,” he mumbled. “And it’s not as if it’s anything you haven’t seen before.” He paused, shamelessly looking at Xiao Zhan’s bulge. Wang Yibo’s smirk grew, like he was too familiar about that bulge. Well of course he was familiar with it, and Xiao Zhan’s face flushed even more. He didn’t move and kept his gaze up and away.
“I made breakfast,” Wang Yibo announced after a moment, still smirking. “But. It’s only cereal.” he paused.
Wang Yibo shrugged. “It’s usually you who…you know. Food and kitchen.”
“I’m just going to take a shower. You can go cook if you like. And eat.”
“Okay,” Xiao Zhan said stiffly.
“And we’ll talk again later.”
He looked at Wang Yibo’s face, and for one curious moment, he wondered what Wang Yibo thought of the stupid moles scattered all throughout his own face and body that Xiao Zhan was sure he could clearly see up-close; or that stupid abstract tattoo on his back that he still couldn’t clearly make what-of. He shivered despite the warmth, and Xiao Zhan was afraid that he might literally combust, and really, he shouldn’t be feeling this way. Not when they were still supposed to be mad at each other because of last night’s events. But then there was him: red-faced and half naked and embarrassed.
“Okay,” he said again, as composed as he could be.
And with a last huff of low chuckles, Wang Yibo exited the closet room.
“Why is he so moody...” Xiao Zhan scoffed, his gut churning in butterflies.
Chapter 3: PART III
vulnerabilities (n.) the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally
“...also, the conflict with the studio was already taken care of last week.. And uh... you have a video conference with the rest of the committee in Chiyoda Entertainment in about an hour?”
“Cancel it,” Wang Yibo said, leaning his back on his chair as he massaged his temples. His eyes were closed.
“What?” Cheng Xiao, their secretary, said. She looked taken aback.
“You heard him, Cheng Xiao, cancel the meeting.” Li Wenhan’s voice sounded from the couches in the middle of Wang Yibo’s office. He was one of his closest friends.
“But, Laoban, they’ve been requesting for a complete attendance since last week and it’s going to be the third time we decline—”
“Cheng Xiao,” Wang Yibo called pointedly. He could sense the young woman’s apprehension but Wang Yibo couldn’t help it. He already tried fixing his mood before swinging by the office but unfortunately, he failed. Wang Yibo put a mental note to apologize to her some time when everything came back to normal. If everything would come back to normal.
“Okay. Got it, Laoban. I’m sorry. I’ll give them a return call and will say you’re still not feeling well.” The woman sighed, stepping outside the office.
Wang Yibo momentarily closed his eyes, letting out an exhale. He might really not be feeling well today.
“You shouldn’t be taking out your frustrations on your secretary, Yibo…” Li Wenhan hummed, still lounging nearby. “She’s done all she can do. Don’t be too hard on her.”
“I know,” Wang Yibo straightened up. “I’ll apologize later on. It’s my fault.”
Li Wenhan snorted. “Are you fatigued? You should be sleeping more, man. You look terrible.”
Wang Yibo scoffed. “Gee, thanks. That makes me feel better.”
“I’m serious, though. You don’t look good. Is it Xiao Zhan?”
He looked at Li Wenhan, not saying a thing.
“I heard he’s doing fine,” Li Wenhan continued with a questioning look. “Well, physically, at least. Is there any progress with him?”
Wang Yibo sighed. He wanted to bang his head on the table at the mention of his husband’s name. Maybe sleep was good for now. He just didn’t want to think. He felt so... frustrated.
“Hm. I see,” he heard him murmur as Wang Yibo buried his face in his arms, groaning at the desk. “No progress at all.”
It has been a rough week for them. With Xiao Zhan’s condition, Wang Yibo knew this was bound to happen. He knew it the moment he realized it would surely take some time before Xiao Zhan recovered. It should be fine, really. Because Wang Yibo swore, he would be patient despite everything. And that would say a lot about him because Wang Yibo wasn’t really known for his outstanding patience. That was his husband, not him. Nowadays, though… he had no other choice. It wasn’t like he was given any other options anyway. Besides, this was Xiao Zhan. Everybody knew it was different for Wang Yibo when it came to his husband.
So he had become a patient man. And he told himself everything was getting okay, everyday. Almost normal. Wang Yibo had believed there was a bit of progress no matter how little.
Yet sometimes, it was so difficult to… delude himself.
Thankfully, Xiao Zhan wasn’t being as resistant as Wang Yibo had anticipated. The fact that he was a little bit curious about everything helped as well. It meant Wang Yibo didn’t need to beg to please try to remember, ge, because Xiao Zhan was curious and knowledge-hungry in nature. Xiao Zhan had asked a lot of things and wanted to see all of their hidden stuff at home. An old china set. An unfinished sketch. Past video recordings. His gazes were too long at random photographs, sticky notes, old billing statements and medicine prescriptions on the fridge. Wang Yibo found it funny sometimes but whenever he would start feeling amused, the feeling of longing would come back, clenching his heart in the most physically painful way; hitting him squarely in the chest, reminding him that Xiao Zhan, indeed, had forgotten it all—his friends, his own hobbies, even all the most recent food recipes he had taught Wang Yibo himself. Everything. All those sensual and magical and even bland moments they had.
Xiao Zhan had also become distant now, of course. Despite being able to tolerate the situation, Xiao Zhan had become cautious. Too careful. And it was odd, because Wang Yibo wasn’t used to having a lot of distance and space and unvoiced words between himself and his husband. They were really taken back five years ago when Xiao Zhan still hated him with all his soul.
And that hurt. God, that fucking hurt because Wang Yibo missed all the cuddles and laughter. The banters and conversations and sex. God Almighty, the sex. It’s his nth day of dealing things with his own hands. (Literally.)
Sometimes they would still bicker, yes. Wang Yibo didn’t think that aspect of their relationship would be gone anyhow. That was how they started, in a way; and frankly, he was grateful that at least when they bicker, it still felt familiar. Though it wasn’t entirely the same as before—not to mention that deep loathing for Wang Yibo he had earned back because of the selected amnesia—at least there was some kind of familiarity pulling them together. Like a cluster of blackholes and nebulas.
Still. Godammit. Of all the things that could be their last memory together, it really had to be that one time when Xiao Zhan had literally hit him on the face. It could be worse, maybe. But sometimes, Wang Yibo wondered if it was better if the Fates had chosen to make Xiao Zhan not remember him at all. At least in that way, Wang Yibo would come out a clean slate. But, no. Those were ungrateful and dangerous thoughts. Wang Yibo would never want to change the way he and Xiao Zhan came to be. If they had fallen in love from that state they were in before, then Wang Yibo was sure they would again.
But, shit. He missed Xiao Zhan so much that Wang Yibo believed he had gone crazy with misery sometimes. Wang Yibo wanted to jump on him every time he would see Xiao Zhan rummaging something in the kitchen cupboards. He wanted to kiss him every night they would go to sleep. Wang Yibo had to reel himself in every time he would hear Xiao Zhan humming a song in the shower. He wanted to touch him. He wanted to fuck Xiao Zhan so bad. He wanted to hear Xiao Zhan moan again, scream how Wang Yibo felt so good inside him, cry in pleasure and love and overwhelming ecstasy...—
It was taking a while for Xiao Zhan to get used to their unit. He had been cleaning and organizing stuff and it had also become clear to him that Wang Yibo was indeed, not the one who was in charge in the kitchen ever since, so Xiao Zhan had learnt that he had to concoct something before Wang Yibo went to work sometimes when it was needed. This made Wang Yibo happy. At least Xiao Zhan wasn’t surprised with this arrangement, as if he already knew at the back of his mind that it had always been him who reigned the kitchen because this supposed husband of his was, well, useless.
Xiao Zhan had been sorting through his collections as well. His medical books, Yanzi Sun CD albums, all their photo prints framed and collaged in their bedroom. Recently, he had discovered their PlayStation set and was surprised at the knowledge that he and Wang Yibo liked to play every Saturday night.
“I never thought I’d be like, a gamer or something?” Xiao Zhan said to him.
“You’re not,” Wang Yibo answered. “But I was. It’s just a fun pastime for you. Winner always gets to boss the loser around.”
His husband seemed unimpressed. “You always win, don’t you,” Xiao Zhan deadpanned. “I knew I suck at video games,” and Wang Yibo had grinned at him, earning back an eye-roll.
Another fact: Xiao Zhan liked to be independent. He was loyal as well, and faithful and fair and charming. But he was so damn clever and stubborn sometimes, and didn’t like not knowing the things going on around him, and that showed when he had tried to navigate his own way one afternoon outside their condominium building when Wang Yibo was at work.
Xiao Zhan wasn’t allowed to drive yet so he wandered by foot, alone in the city with little to no knowledge about the place. The amnesia didn’t mean he became stupid, obviously, so he should still know his way around. But the doctor said he might not be in the right headspace to wander out and about yet because he could get overwhelmed.
That resulted in Xiao Zhan losing his way, predictably, in the end. Which led him having no choice but to borrow a phone (he forgot his own, though it wasn’t clear if he intentionally did it or not) from a random stranger to contact a number he remembered.
Xiao Zhan had contacted his mother.
Wang Yibo shouldn’t have been angry. But he had snapped when he saw the shopping bags at home and the brand-new iPhone that was apparently bought by Xiao Zhan’s mom.
“It was funny,” Xiao Zhan was telling Wang Yibo over dinner that night. “I forgot the phone you gave me and I had to borrow from that guy in the bakery in Hubei Street. He knows me I think, but I didn’t recognize him. He must’ve thought I was joking… And so— I thought I had Lu-jie’s number still memorized but apparently, I forgot it already so I called Mama and she’s very happy! They are currently staying at one of our houses in Xiangmin ever since they flew from Chongqing when they learnt about my accident. She took me shopping and bought me new clothes . . .” Wang Yibo knew he should feel grateful and not bitter, because Xiao Zhan was safe and his face was elated now while he talked. His cheeks gained color, and his eyes shone when he rambled about his parents.
He was happy. Wang Yibo didn’t realize his husband had been so neglected and anxious these days that he forgot how fully beautiful Xiao Zhan was when he was fully, truly happy.
It didn’t settle rightly in his chest, though.
And it wasn’t that it was wrong, Wang Yibo knew. But he didn’t like his husband being clueless and still managing to hold onto that thread of family perfection he so lawfully believed. Still, Wang Yibo didn’t have the heart to stop him from reconciling with his own parents. He didn’t have the heart to speak, so he swallowed his bitterness, listening.
“ . . and I told Papa I’d visit more often. They all miss me as well, and . . . . I’m . . uh . . are you upset?”
Wang Yibo didn’t answer. He just grunted.
“Why are you upset? They’re my parents.”
“I’m not upset, Zhan-ge.”
“You are. You clearly are.”
“I’m—” Wang Yibo didn’t know what to say. “It’s just—odd. I’m not used to you talking about them—”
“Why would it be odd?” Xiao Zhan frowned. Oh no. “That’s supposed to be normal.” He paused. “To be honest, what’s odd is the fact that you don’t know them and you hate them.”
“I don’t. I do not hate them, okay?” Wang Yibo sighed, trying hard to not lose his patience. “Look, let’s not talk about this when we’re eating.”
“Why not? Let’s talk about this now or else the topic will be left off again. Tell me, why do you hate my parents and why did I stop talking to them for years?” Xiao Zhan said.
Wang Yibo wasn’t ready for this. “I don’t hate them,” he emphasized. “For goodness’ sake, I’m not the one who ha—” he paused abruptly. Then, “Zhan-ge, please. I’m not in the mood to argue—”
“Is it you?” Xiao Zhan pressed. He looked disappointed. Dammit. “Did you…manipulate me into hating my own parents because you know they’ll never like you for me? Is that what happened? Am I right?”
“Is that what they are telling you?” Wang Yibo countered.
“Just answer me. Is that true?”
God. “No. That’s not what happened. What kind of bullshit your parents are telling you now—?”
“Don’t talk about them like that.”
“They are lying to you,” Wang Yibo snapped. “You are so vulnerable right now and you can’t see it—”
“Then what am I supposed to believe?!” Xiao Zhan said in an outburst. “It’s been bugging me for ages! Why would I break off the arrangement with Yizhou for you and cut off my own parents? It doesn’t make any sense at all—!”
“Well then, if that’s what you only want—to crawl back to that man—then be my fucking guest!” Wang Yibo exploded, his face flushed in anger.
A few seconds of silence passed.
It was Xiao Zhan who stood up from the dinner table first, not bothering to excuse himself.
They hadn’t spoken for a few days after that.
It was only when Xuan Lu called informing Wang Yibo that Mr. and Mrs. Xiao had invited them all for a dinner that Xiao Zhan was forced to talk to him again.
Wang Yibo didn’t want to go, in all honesty. But if it was for Xiao Zhan, then goddammit. He had no choice again, had he?
“Yibo,” Li Wenhan cut his reverie. “Don’t you have a dinner date with the family tonight?” he was asking. “You should go now.”
It was thirty minutes past four, and his Zhan-ge was probably waiting for him back in their unit, all ready and excited to see his parents.
He straightened up from his slouch, taking a long deep breath. “I suppose so,” he said glumly.
“You should bring some champagne,” Li Wenhan advised. “His parents might like champagne.”
Oh, they do, Wang Yibo thought scornfully. But he didn’t think it would make any difference at all.
“ . . we have this small playhouse over there, and it was all made of plywood and fabric scraps and Lu-jie and I would always go there in afternoons after summer tutorials . .”
Wang Yibo listened to Xiao Zhan excitedly rambling on and on about their vacation house here in Beijing while he parked in front of the big house, cautiously looking at the lights inside. He wondered whether it was too late to back down now. Xiao Zhan’s parents were staying in the suburbs, a desolated bubble of community for the old, wealthy monarchs of Beijing City. He knew the Xiao family was rich. It was nothing new to Yibo as well but it was a bit weird. He knew Xiao Zhan didn’t like excessive grandeur. He was tired of it, if anything. Being the masters of the universes... the corrupt regime… exploitations and unhealthy capitalism…
Wang Yibo really wanted to back down, seeing Xiao Zhan now basking happily with all these lies.
“—and you see that tree over there? I think that was mahogany or something and when I was a child I—”
“—fell from that tree and broke your arm and you didn’t get to go to your swimming lessons that time.”
Xiao Zhan blinked at him from the passenger seat. “I thought you’ve never been to...any of my parents’ places.”
Wang Yibo looked at him lightly, snatching the keys from the ignition. “I haven’t,” he confirmed. “But you told me lots of stories about your childhood, here every summer and even back in Chongqing.” he said. “And that tree’s a walnut, not mahogany, you told me before.” Wang Yibo pushed the car door open, slipping out.
Xiao Zhan didn’t retort but he got himself out the passenger side before Wang Yibo could open the door for him.
The dinner could’ve been more awkward. At least there was Cao Yuchen (Xuan Lu’s fiancé) and Xuan Lu herself who greeted Wang Yibo with warm a one-arm hug and concerned glances the moment they saw each other.
Xuan Lu was looking jovial and radiant tonight, all things considered. She was smiling as Xiao Zhan gushed about the diamond ring on her finger but Wang Yibo could tell that she was still testing the waters around her. The siblings were posing as long-lost black sheep who finally came back home, after all. Xiao Zhan wasn’t fully-aware of this idea, though. Or maybe he was, and was just being heedless about it.
Mr. and Mrs. Xiao had already met Cao Yuchen before, even briefly and unplanned. At least they had known him already at an initial level. Wang Yibo, on the other hand, was a complete stranger. He had tried to convince Xiao Zhan before to see his parents for some blessing, no matter how late but it was Xiao Zhan who was adamant at saying no. So it was a little bit funny now for Wang Yibo to see his husband embracing his parents and telling them how much he missed them and why does everybody look a little older now that he realized and shoot—is that rousong bread!?
Damn. Wang Yibo didn’t want to burst Xiao Zhan’s bubble and ruin his happiness but even he had to admit that this was unfair if not all-kinds-of-wrong.
“So, son,” Mr. Xiao addressed Yuchen. So he’s ‘son’ now, huh. “Xuan Lu said you already have a date for the ceremony.”
“We do,” Yuchen nodded politely. He was a nice man. Tall, same age as Xuan Lu, a little pompous-looking but really, Yuchen was a good drinking buddy. He loved Xuan Lu very deeply. They were a great match. “We’ve thought about it a long time ago and... we have decided it to be the month after the next.”
“This March? But why so soon?” Mrs. Xiao said. “Lulu, darling, you should’ve informed us sooner, you could’ve planned things out with us...!”
Heh, Wang Yibo inwardly scoffed. It wasn’t like this whole family reconciliation was planned all along. If not for the car accident, Wang Yibo was sure the wedding would be held as discreetly as possible, seeing the couple was very simple and reserved themselves. Now though, the wedding was expected to be grand and fancy. A traditional ceremony would be held as originally planned but the reception would now surely be bursting with famous individuals.
“. . . how about you two? When will you hold a celebration?”
It took Wang Yibo a moment to realize Mr. Xiao was talking to him. Xiao Zhan looked at him as well.
“I-I’m sorry?” Wang Yibo said as courteously as possible.
“A celebration,” Mrs. Xiao said carefully, chin a bit high. So it wasn’t only him who was skirting around the edges here, huh. Reasonable enough. The last time they saw each other, everyone was fighting tooth-and-nail over Xiao Zhan. “For A-Zhan’s recovery and second life.”
Oh. Wang Yibo had been told the Xiaos liked to be theatrical. The parents at least. “Ah..” He looked at Xiao Zhan. “We don’t really...”
“You don’t plan on holding a celebration?” Mr. Xiao said incredulously. “A soiree at the very least?”
“Uh, to be honest—we’ve got a lot on our plate at the moment and—”
“What Yibo meant,” Xiao Zhan rescued, “is that we haven’t talked about it, yet.” He paused. “But we are thinking about it, of course. Definitely. A grand hurrah to my second life and all that,” Xiao Zhan smiled reassuringly.
His parents didn’t look entirely convinced, and Mrs. Xiao raised a brow as she lifted a glass of wine on her lips.
“Well, then, if that’s the case, we should hold a celebration immediately,” Mr. Xiao said. “It should be held here as well, I must say. Lots of our relatives are worried about you, Xiao Zhan. And my business partners are concerned as well . . .”
Xiao Zhan looked at Wang Yibo beside him, smiling pointedly. It’s okay, he seemed to say. Let me handle this. And Wang Yibo almost laughed because, fuck. He wanted to kiss Xiao Zhan so bad, right then and there.
“I think that would be great,” Xiao Zhan interjected at his father’s words. Wang Yibo couldn’t tell if the sparkle in his eyes was feigned. “Don’t you think so?” Xiao Zhan continued, looking directly at him. “Dear?”
Ah, Wang Yibo thought. Xiao Zhan was teasing now. Wang Yibo was really defeated. He didn’t see this coming, not for a few months. It was just... him teasing Xiao Zhan with all those endearment names was one thing. Babe, sweetheart, darling. But Xiao Zhan teasing him back was an entirely different matter. Maybe it was only for the sake of show for his parents, to make them think that yes, Xiao Zhan was doing okay with this guy and yes, you have nothing to worry about but it still affected Wang Yibo nonetheless, and man, he wasn’t really prepared for this. This wasn’t in the script. But at least he was one good actor.
“Of course,” Wang Yibo said, one side of his mouth turning up. A palm crawled underneath the table, settling on Xiao Zhan’s thigh. Xiao Zhan imperceptibly went rigid, but he smiled through and through.
Wang Yibo missed this kind of game, truthfully. And even if it was only his husband saving him again from the snotty remarks and judgment of his parents, Wang Yibo couldn’t help but feel this little hope in him, unfurling and growing and keeping him sane despite everything else.
You got my back again, Wang Yibo thought. Just like before, eh? Zhan-ge?
It was almost eleven in the evening when they all decided to go home. Wang Yibo had gone from the comfort room and was now looking for Xiao Zhan when he heard voices in the study. The door was slightly ajar.
“I know it’s not you, A-Zhan, darling,” Mrs. Xiao said in their native dialect. Wang Yibo wasn’t very good at speaking it but he could comprehend a little. Having a husband who would speak in it oftentimes had required him so. “You don’t have to pretend. Look at you, you’re getting thinner! Are you even eating right?”
“I am, Ma, I’m just... adjusting... but I told you everything is alright with Yibo—”
“And your Papa and I told you, you don’t have to put up an act for him. If you are uncomfortable living with that man, just say the word and we’ll arrange the divorce papers—”
“Mama, don’t be so drastic. He’s really putting an effort so I can remember—”
“But you don’t have to remember, I told you again and again!”
“Ma,” A pause. “Please. Don’t make me question my choices. I don’t like that you hate him this much. He’s not that bad. And I know—”
“He’s one of the people who got Chuanli demolished.”
“How did you know that?”
Mrs. Xiao didn’t reply.
“I don’t understand, why would you...” A deep breath. “You didn’t even like Chuanli before.” Xiao Zhan continued. “Actually from what I remember, you were quite disappointed that I chose to spend my residency at an unknown place and not in the hospital our family partly owns.” Xiao Zhan exhaled. Wang Yibo could imagine his face. “You were disappointed at Lu-jie and me back then, so I know for a fact that you and Papa don’t care about Chuanli at all.”
“Ma.. I—I hate him. I do hate him for what happened before. But I’m trying, okay? I’m trying—”
“A-Zhan,” Mrs. Xiao suddenly said, and her next words were garbled, a broken wail. “I just want you to come back to us... I don’t care if you don’t recall the past at all, I just want you to come back, my love... I just want you to come back. I can’t lose you again...”
“Ma,” Xiao Zhan said weakly, and his mother’s sobs became muffled, as if she was swathed in a tight embrace.
Wang Yibo walked away, deciding to just wait for Xiao Zhan in the house’s front patio.
The car ride home was silent.
Neither of them spoke in the first few miles.
A few times, Wang Yibo would side-glance at Xiao Zhan, wondering what was running inside that head of his. It was hard to read him when he got like this: silent and withdrawn, eyes gazing at the passing suburban manors as they finally exit the outskirts of the city.
It was rare for Xiao Zhan to be like this. Usually when he got anxious over things, his first instinct was to talk to someone about it. Xiao Zhan told him that at first, he was the kind of person who would let things consume him on his own. But later on, he learnt that things would worsen that way. That problems and anxieties would only grow if left undiscussed. That was how Wang Yibo had memorized him bit by bit—by learning all the things Xiao Zhan would share.
So silent times like this were the hardest ones.
Wang Yibo finally gave up on wanting to strike up a conversation at least until they arrived at the penthouse when Xiao Zhan spoke. “When I was seven, I told my parents I want to be a painter.”
He knew this already, but he waited for Xiao Zhan’s next words.
“They told me no and said I should choose another dream,” He paused. “I said, okay, then. I want to be an idol instead,” he laughed with too much air, mirthless. “Then they said no again, and told me I have to be a doctor or a high-class entrepreneur, so that one day, I can continue the family legacy,” Xiao Zhan paused. “Some legacy they have.
“All my life I’ve been told what to do.” He continued. “My dreams... my school... my program... my career... and sometimes even my relationships with other people...” He sighed. “I never questioned them once because I had believed everything is for my own good. Because I believe it’s just because they care too much. And I...” he broke off, suppressing a shudder. “I still believe everything is for my own sake. I believe now that it is because they truly love me and really care for me. But now……am I wrong? Yibo, am I wrong?”
Wang Yibo didn’t have an answer on hand. He only continued to drive, mind reeling. His knuckles were white.
Then Xiao Zhan shifted, turning to look at him. It’s a good thing Wang Yibo was behind the wheel because he didn’t think he could hold Xiao Zhan’s gaze that moment. “Why aren’t you saying anything?” Xiao Zhan demanded. “Am I wrong? Do you think so? Yibo,” he paused, waiting. Then, “Say something!”
“I don’t know!” Wang Yibo said loudly. He didn’t intend to raise his tone again but the desperation in Xiao Zhan’s voice was beginning to hurt him as well, eating the frayed edges of their relationship. “What do you want me to say? I... Fuck, I don’t even have the best history with your parents, Zhan-ge, you know that at least. But... I’m sorry.”
It wasn’t that Wang Yibo was lying; the truth was, he did think Xiao Zhan’s parents really cared about him so much at one point. But it was complicated and shitty. People were people and sometimes immorality, family ties, greed and selfish desires overlapped. Xiao Zhan’s life, his life... Their lives were a fiasco.
For a terrifying moment, Wang Yibo thought Xiao Zhan was crying. But no, Xiao Zhan wasn’t. Not yet, at least. Still, he looked so torn and sad. Wang Yibo felt horrible.
“Why am I feeling like this...” Xiao Zhan whispered and Wang Yibo wanted to run the brakes and hold him tight. “I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, Yibo.”
He became silent again after a while, and no one broke the ice until the next morning.
Days passed. February greeted Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan like an old friend, mocking them with red hearts and Valentine’s Day banners all round. February used to be Wang Yibo’s favorite month because of all the chocolates and over-all giddy atmosphere. It was a perfect excuse to be childish and romantic as well, and once upon a time it was also one of the rare times Xiao Zhan would willingly tolerate Wang Yibo’s juvenile antics. But now, February was just February. Another month filled with still dealing things with his own hand. Wang Yibo was starting to think he would die of sex abstinence.
Xiao Zhan was still as amnesiac as ever. Though Wang Yibo believed their relationship had somewhat evolved from being strangers to... well, still not lovers but probably as domestic roommates or maybe even partners but still, nope—being partners was too deep. Being called partners was too intimate. Maybe he would call them partners if he would want to indulge in his own thoughts.
Xiao Zhan was still always sorting through their stack and collection of photographs these days. On days when Wang Yibo was away, Xiao Zhan would lock himself in their mini library and storage room, sipping tea or coffee. Oftentimes, he would even find his Zhan-ge scrolling through his social media accounts in his laptop, brows and nose crinkling in mild confusion at the content. He never posted anything new; he didn’t even know half the people who follow him in his private Oasis account. Wang Yibo knew there were still a lot of unasked questions but he only kept observing and standing on the sidelines, ready to help. He knew Xiao Zhan deeply and personally enough to realize that this was supposed to be his battle. It was a fight against himself—one that could only be fought alone.
It was tough, the idea that Wang Yibo couldn’t get to do anything at all but watch Xiao Zhan struggle. Still, Wang Yibo was always there. Lingering, waiting, ready to help.
Xiao Zhan wasn’t still asking him for the keys of his studio. It’s okay, Wang Yibo thought. He didn’t really expect the studio to be opened until Xiao Zhan regained enough memories. It was stressful enough to tell him he had invested for an art studio first instead of a medical clinic, so he let him be, knowing Xiao Zhan wasn’t ready yet.
That was why it was a surprise when Xiao Zhan had opened the topic one Friday night. Xiao Zhan was now sifting through stacks of burned CDs and general surgery books he had bought before the accident when Wang Yibo rapped on the already-opened door of their study.
“Hey,” Xiao Zhan said, not looking up from what he was doing. He was sitting atop the long wooden table, the collection of photographs and other trinkets splayed in front of him. There was a half-empty mug of green tea near him, and the laptop was playing a series of random videos they had in 2018. It was currently showing Xiao Zhan’s video logs when they had a short trip to Moscow summer that year.
Wang Yibo inwardly sighed as he recalled the memories, nostalgia hitting him so hard. He strode inside the room, glancing down the collage of Polaroids.
“What’re you up to now, ge?” Wang Yibo hummed, smiling a bit at the sight of his husband. He was wearing one of Wang Yibo’s sweatshirts again, the shoulder breadth too wide, baring Xiao Zhan’s right shoulders and collarbones off. Wang Yibo’s fingers twitched, wanting to touch.
“Some photos again,” Xiao Zhan muttered distractingly. He kept glancing at the laptop every now and then, still keeping watch as his fingers arranged the prints on the table. “I just want to see if I can remember more. You know, if I can trace these photos? I mean,” he shook his head slowly, frowning. “I keep looking for a photo that would just, I don’t know, ring a bell or something.”
Wang Yibo hummed again in response, hovering. He slowly perched at the edge of the table, not quite touching but so very near Xiao Zhan; still looking at that patch of skin that deliciously slipped as he absentmindedly listened to Xiao Zhan’s words.
“ . . and I found these CDs near the top drawer at—” Xiao Zhan froze mid-sentence, having turned and finding Wang Yibo’s face only a few inches from him. Wang Yibo’s eyes were hooded, lips turned in a mindless smirk. Nobody moved.
“Yes, Zhan-ge? You were saying..?” Wang Yibo said lowly.
Xiao Zhan didn’t immediately respond, gaze turning to look down his lips and then blinking and glancing away, pulling back. “I’m—I…—” He huffed, biting his lip. “The photographs, I mean...” he mumbled. His ears were pink.
It was hard for Wang Yibo, controlling himself these days, and it always got harder at enticing moments like this.
Wang Yibo didn’t know what face he was showing but it was making Xiao Zhan flustered. Wang Yibo really missed teasing him.
Then Xiao Zhan cleared his throat. His cheeks were still dusted in lovely pink. “I, uh, actually want to say something to you. I’ve been thinking about this all day.”
That snapped Wang Yibo’s attention. He blinked, “What of?”
“I think I’m ready to see the studio now.”
He had asked Xiao Zhan three times if he was sure about it and to all Xiao Zhan answered yes, he was ready, and no, he wasn’t nervous and hell, don’t make this a big deal.
The thing was, this was a big deal. Wang Yibo was sure of it. The studio was very important to Xiao Zhan and to him as well. Lots of irreplaceable memories happened there—domestic Sunday afternoons, irrelevant arguments, and even countless times of sex. The studio was Xiao Zhan’s safe haven. The studio was their sanctuary of memories.
So as desperate as Wang Yibo didn’t want himself to be, he was really hoping the studio would help Xiao Zhan regain maybe not all, but a fraction of memories of those five years he lost.
The smell of gouache and acrylic hit them the moment Wang Yibo pushed the door open.
He was the first one who stepped inside, Xiao Zhan trailing behind.
It was the same as ever, the studio, and for some unfathomable reason, Wang Yibo’s chest constricted again. He didn’t really like this emotion in particular. He had been feeling this since the accident. It was the root of his misery. But then again, push, Wang Yibo did. He was good at pushing feelings and emotions down, anyway. It was just that, this whole thing was intricately woven with Xiao Zhan and even Wang Yibo himself would admit defeat whenever it came to him.
The studio still looked as if it was bathed in Xiao Zhan’s fragments of heart and soul. His husband wasn’t much of a hipster; he was more of a minimalist if anything, really, but the fairy lights they had hung as a joke before were still there all over the room, automatically lighting up and sparkling like some goddamned shit the moment the door opened. He noticed Xiao Zhan widen his eyes at them first thing, probably wondering what the hell. The lights were cute, though, even Wang Yibo had to admit, and he saw Xiao Zhan’s gaze soften a little.
One side of the room was painted with a mural of sunflowers and daisies. The adjoining wall was where all of his small pieces hung, and some of his large canvas pieces—finished and not, alike—were leaning, waiting for their master to get back to them. Bursts of colors were scattered everywhere. Tin cans and palettes of paint were strewn and lying here and there, untouched for a long time.
The remaining walls were covered in mirrors and Wang Yibo turned, watching Xiao Zhan taking everything in. He was currently looking at a finished painting of a bunch of people in white hospital gowns—some of his patients way, way back.
“Who are they?” Xiao Zhan asked, brows crinkling.
“Your patients before,” Wang Yibo answered. “Yiyi, Kimiko, Zhuwei...”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer immediately. Then, “I...don’t know them. I still can’t remember..” he shook his head, frowning. He swiveled around, looking at the other pieces scattered everywhere. “I—” he said, “Did I really make all of these?” He let out a frustrated breath. “I don’t... I still can’t...remember.” He paused, huffing a mirthless laughter. “This is all so absurd. I can’t believe it— These are all… I mean… Am I really this…good?”
Wang Yibo tilted his head, inwardly smiling; he was not sure how to answer the question.
“...but it’s not like I’d remember anything this way . .”
Wang Yibo didn’t say anything. Then suddenly, he strode forward, snatching Xiao Zhan’s arm and pulling him in front of a propped canvas, an unfinished smudge of oranges and yellows and reds—a school of koi? A sunset? It was still unrecognizable, but he was sure it would come to life if only Xiao Zhan continued it.
“Here,” he thrusted a painting brush and palette in Xiao Zhan’s hands. “You can do it; just try and think what you want this piece to be—”
“Yibo— Look, I’m not—I’m not sure I can do this—”
“You used to just stare at a canvas for too long before, but eventually, you get to move past art blocks and stuff—”
“I don’t really know how. Not anymore—” Xiao Zhan said exasperatedly.
“Oh wait—” He said, turning to a CD player on one corner of the room and hitting play. A korean dance-pop song boomed from the speakers, courtesy of a boy group Xiao Zhan dearly liked. “You always listen to music when you paint,” Wang Yibo said loudly over the loud music. “I’m not really sure how you do it, but I know you’ll remember, and—”
“Yibo.. please.. I don’t—!”
“No—trust me, Zhan-ge. I know you’ll be able to—”
“—can you just listen to me and turn that fucking music off!?” Xiao Zhan shouted, throwing the brushes and palette on the floor.
Wang Yibo halted. He only stood, his words cut off, not being able to say anything back. Xiao Zhan was silent as well, his hands now cradling his own head, as if he was having a severe headache.
Wang Yibo turned the music off entirely, fingers idly lingering on the CD player. Then suddenly, he just—slammed his fist down the equipment, cracking the poor thing’s encasement. Xiao Zhan jumped, face still ducked and covered.
“I’M TRYING—TO HELP YOU!” Wang Yibo bellowed. “But we won’t move forward if you won’t help yourself—!”
“I’m doing my best!” Xiao Zhan looked up, face shining in fresh tears of anguish and confusion. “I’m trying so hard it makes me anxious and lost and mad!” he said. “I feel like I’m going mad! I don’t know anything! I can’t recall anything! I want to remember anything but I—”
“But you’re what?” Wang Yibo said, more calmly now but his words still lashed like a whip, eyes livid. “But you’re what, Xiao Zhan? But you’re afraid? But you’re scared?” he paused, a bitter smile grazing his face when Xiao Zhan didn’t reply. “I know I’m not the only one who’s getting mad day by day,” he continued, shaking his head. “I know I’m not the only one who finds this whole fucking thing impossible,” he paused. “But—” he briefly closed his eyes painstakingly, opening them again to reveal his pain. “But I’m starting to think all of this is for nothing if you don’t really want to go back.”
It was a while before Xiao Zhan answered, and when he did, his voice was thick and strained. “You’re being very unfair,” he said, glaring at Wang Yibo. “I hate you so much,” he said, and pushed past Wang Yibo to exit the room, slamming the door loudly in the process.
Wang Yibo remained rooted in his spot. Then after a moment, his knees felt like jelly and he had to sit down on the floor to regain composure. He stayed like that for a while, an elbow propped on a knee, a fist on his mouth. Then he snatched a brush lying by his side, and hurled it viciously across the room.
He found Xiao Zhan back in the study a few hours later, curled and sleeping like a cat on the small couch. He couldn’t tell if Xiao Zhan was crying for long before he fell asleep but his face looked tired, and his lips were parched. The laptop was still on, now playing the video of their wedding. It showed Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo signing papers and registering their names for marriage with Kim Sungjoo and Xuan Lu as their witnesses. Then the video of their wedding vows. It was held in the National Museum of Modern Art in Beijing. It wasn’t technically allowed, of course, but Xiao Zhan was feeling adventurous back then and had told Wang Yibo it was his dream to say his marriage vows in The Louvre but the National Museum will do, alright.
“I vow...” Xiao Zhan started his vows in the video, standing in front of a wall of modern paintings. His hair was in a stylish windswept look, tamed and combed back. He was wearing an all-white tuxedo and a bouquet of flowers in his hand—white roses and forget-me-nots. Xiao Zhan was smiling in the video at Yibo, who was also in a matching all-white tux, standing in front of him. “...to help you love life, to always hold you in my arms and to have the patience that love demands,” Xiao Zhan smiled intimately, eyes glassy and transfixed only at Wang Yibo. “To speak when words are needed and to share the silence when they are not. To agree or disagree on all things you like and don’t, earning one million fights and arguments and eventually making up in the end.” Xiao Zhan paused, allowing the people around them to laugh at his words. “And I vow to live within the warmth of your heart… and always call it home.” He paused. “Ah god, I am so unnecessarily sappy.” The corners of his eyes crinkled in glee.
Wang Yibo continuously watched the video, now seeing himself getting ready for his own vows to exchange.
“Damn,” video-Yibo muttered and turned to the camera, “Seungyeon-hyung, you better had recorded that one!”
“Just get on with it, Yibo!” Xiao Zhan pressed.
Video-Yibo laughed. Then, “Okay, okay here I go...” Wang Yibo had cleared his throat, smiling at Xiao Zhan. “I vow.. to fiercely love you in all your forms, now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is a once in a lifetime love. And to always know in the deepest part of my soul that no matter what challenges might carry us apart, we will always find our way back to each other.”
Wang Yibo would never forget Xiao Zhan’s answering smile to him that moment. The recording video couldn’t do any justice. It didn’t quite catch the perfection that had stood in front of him that day.
“Well then,” A voice sounded from someone between them—Yu Bin, one of Xiao Zhan’s closest friends and colleagues. “With the power of divine faith and everlasting love and friendship and all that shit—I pronounce you—”
“Hey! What the hell are you doin’ there?!”
“Shit! Security—! I pronounced you a married couple and go live happily-ever-fucking-after—! RUN!”
The newly-vowed couple hastily kissed, and everyone scampered to run. The video was still recording, and everyone was laughing as they ran away to exit the museum. The couple was hand-in-hand as they laughed their asses off, running amok while Wang Yibo whooped and Xiao Zhan cursed good-naturedly at the camera. “You still have that thing on?! Turn that thing off we’re gonna get arrested!”
“No, hyung! Record the whole thing!”
“Yibo—you idiot—you are so insane—! Are you high!?”
“It’s not me who thought saying our vows here in the museum is a great idea, Zhan-ge!”
“That’s not the point you, rascal!”
The video was cut off soon after that.
It never recorded the kiss they shared again just outside the museum when their friends diverted the security guards from them. It never recorded how long and tender and sweet the kiss had been. Or how out-of-breath Xiao Zhan and Yibo had been. Wang Yibo remembered that they were still smiling through the kiss and Xiao Zhan’s arms had looped around his neck, the forget-me-nots from Xiao Zhan’s bouquet tickling his cheek.
Wang Yibo looked at his husband now, still sleeping soundly on the couch. For a frightening moment a while ago, Wang Yibo wanted to give up. But when he had seen Xiao Zhan, he realized that he couldn’t. His husband wanted to break free and move on and start anew with a different life but Wang Yibo was too selfish to let go. He couldn’t, and he didn’t believe he had the will to do so.
He scooped Xiao Zhan carefully in his arms, not wanting to wake him up. Xiao Zhan stirred slightly as he was carrying him up the staircase, instinctively snuggling at his chest and looping his arms around Wang Yibo’s neck. He let his lips linger on Xiao Zhan’s hair, smelling the familiar scent of their shampoo.
Wang Yibo set him down on their bed gingerly, movements still careful. When he already tucked Xiao Zhan under the covers, he watched him, the back of his hand skimming Xiao Zhan’s face. Then with a little bit of hesitation, Wang Yibo leaned down, kissing Xiao Zhan’s mouth, momentarily feeling the familiar softness of his pink lips.
Wang Yibo was about to push himself up when a light touch of hand held his arm. He froze, pulling back a bit and looking at Xiao Zhan. His eyes were still closed, but he whispered, “...’M sorry...”
He didn’t know if Xiao Zhan was only on the verge of sleep and consciousness but for a blind moment, Wang Yibo didn’t care. “I’m sorry..” Xiao Zhan whispered again, almost inaudible, and with one swift motion, Wang Yibo was under the covers as well, pulling his Zhan-ge to his chest, snaking his arms around him and touching his lips on top of Xiao Zhan’s head.
“No,” Wang Yibo said lowly. “No.. I am sorry. It’s not you, ge... I’m sorry...”
They fell asleep like that, in the arms of each other, aching and longing for memories that were no longer there.
3 days ago
“Good morning, Liumei,” Xiao Zhan called out to the female receptionist as he passed by.
“Good morn—what—Xiao Zhan?! Wait! What are you doing here?! You’re not supposed to go there?!”
The woman caught up with him before he entered the room. “What do you mean? I just wanted to talk with Yizhou. Surely, I am still allowed, yes?” Xiao Zhan raised a brow.
Liumei swallowed nervously. “It’s not like that, Xiao Zhan—”
“Uh-huh?” Xiao Zhan said. “Then what is it?”
“It’s because he’s not there.” A different voice interrupted. When Xiao Zhan turned, he was met with a familiar smirking face. “It’s okay, Liumei, I’ll take it from here.” And the receptionist bowed to them before she left.
Xiao Zhan turned to face the newcomer after a while. He tried to smile. “Well? Why am I not allowed to go see my ex-fiancé?”
The man smiled back, hands buried deeply in the pockets of his white coat. “Ex-fiance, huh. Never really thought you guys became official before that jerk swooped in.” He paused, chuckling. “Nice to see you too, Xiao Zhan-gege. I see the rumors are true.”
Xiao Zhan’s smile turned saccharine. “What do you mean, Haoxuan?” This guy never changed. He was always riling people up.
“I heard you were in a car accident, and that, you’ve gone crazy.”
“What the hell?”
“I mean you lost part of your memories,” he chuckled. “Selected amnesia, eh? I see that it’s true. Because you won’t be here in this hospital if it’s not.”
Xiao Zhan crossed his arms on his chest. “My family partly owns this hospital.” he countered. “Where’s your cousin?”
Wang Haoxuan smiled. “Yizhou is not here. I believe he’s out of the country and won’t be back until next month.”
Xiao Zhan glanced at the door of Yizhou’s office, realizing it must’ve been locked.
“But no worries,” Wang Haoxuan smiled. “I believe you wanted to talk?”
“To him,” Xiao Zhan said. “Not you.” And he made a move to push past him, leaving.
“Hey, hey—not so fast,” Haoxuan grinned, gripping him by the arm. “We haven’t seen each other for ages! I believe this is the perfect opportunity for us to have a chit chat over tea?”
“You have poor tastes in tea, so no thanks—”
“Oh come on,” Haoxuan drawled. “Won’t you indulge a former colleague, an old friend? I can even answer some of your lingering questions? Is it about Yizhou? Or... Chuanli?”
Xiao Zhan scowled. “No, it’s not about—”
“Or is it about Yibo?”
Xiao Zhan halted, looking at him.
Haoxuan’s smile was still as sharp as ever. Xiao Zhan could almost feel the dangerous precipice he was dangling himself onto.
“What do you say so, gege?” Haoxuan’s eyes glinted. “Want to continue this at my office...?”
Wang Yibo was surprised to find Xiao Zhan packing some of his clothes in a suitcase. Their clothes, but not that Xiao Zhan knew; he mostly wore Yibo’s casual clothes these days, believing it was his because it was comfortable enough.
“What are you doing?” Wang Yibo said cautiously, hovering by the door of their walk-in closet.
Xiao Zhan paused packing, turning to look at him. “Hey,” he said, then he bit his lip. “I’m—I’m going.”
Wang Yibo’s mind went black. “What?”
“I mean, only for a bit. Only until Lu-jie’s wedding. I’m—I’m staying at my parents’ house.”
Wang Yibo wasn’t able to reply. Then slowly, he trudged forward. “When?” he whispered, and Xiao Zhan’s phone vibrated, signaling a message.
Xiao Zhan read it and glanced at Yibo. “Now. Papa’s already in front of the building.”
Wang Yibo opened his mouth to say something. But his tongue felt heavy. But, “Is this because of what happened the other night?”
Xiao Zhan paused, looking at him. He sighed, contemplating for an answer. “No... it’s not.” He finally said, zipping the suitcase close one last time.
Yibo was so ready to beg, goddammit. “Cuz, if it’s because of that, I swear to god, Zhan-ge, I won’t touch you ever again, not until you say so—”
“No—” Xiao Zhan interrupted, looking appalled. “No, no, Yibo, look—” he paused. “It’s not because of that. That’s—that’s no big deal for me, okay? But it’s just...I mean—it made me realize a lot of things.”
“It made you realize that you want to leave me?” Wang Yibo croaked mid-sentence.
Xiao Zhan pursed his lips, looking torn. Then hesitantly, he brought a palm on Wang Yibo’s cheek, skimming a thumb on his lower lip. His hands were cold. “No,” he said. “I just need some time to think. And I also need some time with my parents. Mama... she’s been calling me the past few days since we all had dinner. She’s been sick because she misses me so much, so I decided to just move back at least until after the wedding.” he paused. “It’s just for a little while, alright? Stop with that face—”
“I’m not making any face.”
Xiao Zhan laughed halfheartedly, hands falling from Wang Yibo’s face. Then, “I’m going,” he said. And with a light and awkward peck on the cheek, he was gone.
Wang Yibo wanted to be angry because of this split-second decision. Why didn’t Xiao Zhan say anything? Wang Yibo believed he deserved a proper head’s up at least.
But he couldn’t bring himself to be angry at Xiao Zhan. He wanted to but he couldn’t.
Yibo didn’t want to think. And with the idea of drowning his own thoughts, he downed half a bottle of wine he had been keeping for morose nights like this. Alone and miserable.
“Hello, Xiao Zhan,” the doctor greeted Xiao Zhan with a smiling face. “Nice to see you again after... ten weeks! I see that your test results are doing good.” She nodded. She glanced at him and his mother across her desk, and after a while, she said, “So, are there any resurgence... of memories?”
His mother stopped smiling, and Xiao Zhan felt it difficult to answer. “I’m...” he said. “..uh, nothing,” he shook his head. “There’s no resurgence of some sort.”
“I see,” his doctor said. Then, “Mrs. Xiao, would you mind if I talk to your son privately for a few minutes?”
“Oh—I—it’s okay, I don’t mind,” his mother smiled tightly, but she obliged, stepping outside the room.
When it was only Xiao Zhan and the doctor alone, Xiao Zhan turned to her.
“Xiao Zhan,” she started. “I have to ask: are you afraid of going back to the trauma of the accident?”
Xiao Zhan thought about this hard, but realizing he had no recollection of any sensation regarding the accident, he believed it wasn’t the accident itself he was afraid of. “No,” he said. “I don’t remember anything about the accident, after all.”
“Then, what are you afraid of?”
That was the real question, wasn’t it? But frankly, Xiao Zhan didn’t know the answer himself. “I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “It’s just that...what if... I don’t like the choices I made before? What if.. I don’t like what happened to my life? Or.. what if.. I like it too much? I mean...” he sighed. “I don’t know, I’m confused.”
“That’s understandable. Completely reasonable. But.. have you talked to your husband? Have you been talking things through with him?”
Xiao Zhan pursed his lips, sighing through his nose. “We tried... but every time we do, it’s always a failure. And now I ended up moving back to my parents’ house just because of my pathetic inability to cope up and fix things with him.”
The doctor nodded, humming. “Xiao Zhan, I don’t mean to pry.” She said. “But I’ll tell you this once: you have to let go of the fear,” she said, looking directly at him. “Because if you don’t, you’ll start questioning the choices that made yourself you.” She smiled sadly. “It doesn’t matter whatever life you were leading right before the accident. But Xiao Zhan, I want you to consider the people who continuously love you whom you have forgotten. I’m no psychology expert but any person can tell that you are loved by a lot of people, and that alone is a massive factor to consider before moving forward...
“And I know you’re strong and very capable. But you just have to take a leap and trust your heart.”
What beautiful words, Xiao Zhan thought.
He only hoped that when taking a leap, Wang Yibo was still there to catch him if he was jumping in a void.
Chapter 4: PART IV
You and Me by Wan Fang (First Edition) was actually released on June 2020. In this story, I made it seem like it was published circa 2014.
retrospections (n.) looking back on or dealing with past events or situations
“…was a shame, really,” the woman’s laugh was shrill in Xuan Lu’s ears. “To be honest I told your mother that it would’ve been better if either my Keiko or Xiuying shall end up with your brother.”
Xuan Lu raised her brows, lightly sipping from the champagne flute on her hand to stop whatever words coming from her mouth. The woman was obviously a family business associate with her air of familiar snot and her wrinkly fingers covered in rings of gems and colorful stones. She didn’t really care, to be honest, as this kind of formal and stifling grandeur was abandoned years ago by her and Xiao Zhan. Still. This was her engagement party in the first place and she didn’t want to ruin her own mood, so.
“…A-Ying is still in med school as you all know. We all like for her to finish it first but really, I think A-Zhan and my A-Ying will make a great match! Er, don’t you think as well, Lulu?”
Dear god, Xuan Lu thought. She internally shook her head, wanting to get out of this preposterous conversation. She hummed a bit though, pretending to be kind. She looked like she was actually contemplating the other’s words.
“It doesn’t really matter,” she smiled. “After all, Zhanzhan is already married for years now...” She inclined her head towards Xiao Zhan beside her, who didn’t really appear to be in the conversation at all since it began.
“I know!” the woman shook her head, laughing snottily, “That’s why it’s a shame, really, eh, A-Zhan…?”
Xiao Zhan, having beckoned, turned to look. He looked distracted and his eyes were darting here and there as if looking for someone among the crowd. “I’m sorry, ma’am?”
The woman chuckled delightedly, squeezing Xiao Zhan’s arms, “Oh, no need to be so formal! You can just call me Auntie—!”
Xiao Zhan blinked, not following. Xuan Lu suppressed a giggle before she intercepted. “I’m sorry but can you excuse us for a moment?”
The woman looked as if she would protest but before she could say anything more, Xuan Lu dragged Xiao Zhan by the elbow and stopped just beside the sweets and patisserie table. Xuan Lu hesitated but she plucked a champagne flute from the passing waiter and gave it to her brother.
“What’s gotten into you?” Xuan Lu chuckled. “Your head’s in the clouds.”
Xiao Zhan took a sip. He didn’t answer but his eyes were still imperceptibly roaming the room.
Today was a joyous occasion. Lots of elites were invited by Mr. and Mrs. Xiao to mill around. Old and familiar faces were swarming here and there and as the family host, Xuan Lu and Xiao Zhan were supposed to chit chat to everyone—mingle and engage with mindless chatters about each other’s riches and universes. Xiao Zhan was used to these kinds of ridiculous exchanges. He was an ace to these mindless talks; he was an easy charmer, and everyone loved him, so this was supposed to be a tedious and easy task for him.
Yet he appeared to be a little distracted.
There was only one reason, Xuan Lu suspected.
“Are you looking for someone?” she inquired.
Xiao Zhan shrugged. “Who would I look for?” he murmured, eyes still searching the crowd.
“Oh, I don’t know???” Xuan Lu exaggeratingly shrugged as well, teasing.
Xiao Zhan rolled his eyes, snorting.
“You know what, Zhanzhan, it will be better if you can just outright reject the shameless matchmaking-propositions to you.” Xuan Lu said. “That was, what? The third time some madam who wants you to call them auntie said you’d be perfect with their child?”
“Fourth,” Xiao Zhan corrected. “Let them be. It’s widely known I’m married, anyway.”
Xuan Lu’s eyebrows furrowed. She peeked at her brother’s left hand. He wasn’t wearing his wedding band. “People might still get the wrong idea, you know,” she said lowly, turning away, muttering. “After all, these days, you still think and act like you’re a bachelor.”
His mouth contorted. He looked at his sister, wanting to rebut but then he seemed to remember it was Xuan Lu’s party so he stopped himself.
Xuan Lu sighed, smiling lightly. “You’re funny, my little brother,” she jabbed. “But you know what? Don’t do things half-heartedly. It’s not very you.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer. Then Xuan Lu pinched her brother’s cheek affectionately. “Oh come on, Zhanzhan, stop pouting, for goodness’ sake! If Yibo sees you he might think you were bullied.”
He gave her a glare. “Lu-jie, stop with that nonsense—”
Xuan Lu stuck her tongue out but then they were once again interrupted.
“—Lulu, darling—I was looking for you for ages—!” Their mother, Mrs. Xiao, suddenly showed up, a few new aunties in tow.
Xiao Zhan’s face visibly went Oh no and maybe he sensed another long ridiculous chit chat ahead, so, sneakily, he fled, swiftly exchanging his empty champagne flute to a full one from another passing waitress. Xuan Lu wanted to call him back, feeling tricked. But then she glanced around, and seeing a particular someone enter the party, she let Xiao Zhan go.
“… oh this lovely lady...! You’ve grown so much since I saw you..! And now I can’t believe you’re getting married . . .”
Xiao Zhan felt guilty ditching his sister like that but it was her engagement party anyway. She was supposed to socialize and be swathed with attention. Even her fiancé seemed to be doing okay by himself when Xiao Zhan spotted him being interrogated by a few prominent gentlemen and acquaintances.
He was looking around sipping champagne; as he wandered around, he idly thought... what had his own engagement party looked like? But then he shook his head, realizing he had none. He couldn’t be sure, really. He should’ve asked his supposed-husband more things about their recent years. But based on the videos and photographs back at their unit in Haidian, it seemed that Xiao Zhan was living his life in a much simpler way than he remembered, so nope, no excessive engagement soirees and parties at all. Speaking of his supposed-husband…where was that guy…? Xiao Zhan thought Xuan Lu invited him. His sister seemed to be getting along with Wang Yibo, surprisingly. Unlike him…
He walked around more, greeting a few familiar people. There were also unfamiliar faces, of course. These might be new acquaintances of them from the past years Xiao Zhan had forgotten due to his ‘condition’ or maybe some very old family friends that he wasn’t really acquainted with. But truthfully, he felt it was more likely the former than the latter.
Xiao Zhan was stepping outside, towards the garden, when he spotted Yibo. He hadn’t seen Xiao Zhan yet, but after a moment, he turned slightly and their eyes met.
Xiao Zhan slowly halted his steps, lingering. He stared, not sure whether he should smile in lieu of greeting.
He was kind of...nervous. The last time they saw each other was weeks ago. Not to mention they actually had a row a few nights beforehand. Xiao Zhan cringed at the memory. That fight was scary. He wouldn’t admit it out loud but Xiao Zhan had felt so afraid. Of Yibo’s feelings, of his own, of the fact that he couldn’t—even for goodness’ sake—recall anything at all. He had felt pathetic, hearing Yibo’s honest words, the way they sounded. But the worst was, they were all true. Xiao Zhan was scared to go back. Somehow, he had begun to question whether that present life he had forgotten was even really worth remembering.
But that was so selfish. God, the thought itself was so cruel. And Xiao Zhan didn’t want to be selfish and cruel. His attending doctor was right. He was strong and capable. Even if he was scared of what his real life turned out to be due to his choices in the past, he had to face it head-on with his chin held high. That was just who he was. And that was just whom he had to be.
Then there was his husband. Wang Yibo; who had liked to call and message him after he moved back to his parents’ house, just ‘checking him up’ or just because he ‘missed him already’ and wow. Wang Yibo was so blunt and straightforward. Xiao Zhan didn’t know if that behavior was only reserved for him or that man was really wired that way for everyone else. Xiao Zhan would often find his heart sputtering in his chest whenever Wang Yibo would be like that.
Maybe that’s why you fell for him, a voice inside him said. You’ve always liked guys who are a little too blunt and rough, right?
In the midst of his internal speculations, Wang Yibo had begun sauntering towards him, wearing a soft smile. He looked...handsome. He was wearing a casual tux for the occasion, and his hair... His hair was a bit different. It was styled in an artfully combed back manner that made him look so youthful and fresh and vital. Very, very vital. Xiao Zhan idly wondered how far and deep that vitality went…
“Hey,” Xiao Zhan greeted, face unreadable. “I didn’t know you’d come.”
Wang Yibo smiled widely. “Of course, I’ll come. I’d get to see you,” he said. “You look great, by the way.”
Xiao Zhan blinked. “Thank you.”
“You cut your hair,” Wang Yibo pointed out.
Xiao Zhan blinked again. He seemed distracted. “Oh.. uh.. yeah.. I mean.. it’s getting longer. I asked Lu-jie to cut it.”
“Yeah, she cuts your hair way better than I do.”
Xiao Zhan looked surprised. “I…let you cut my hair?”
Wang Yibo grinned. “Once. And it was never repeated ever again. There might have been a few teasings involved.”
“I will take note of that, thank you very much,” he said, taking a sip from his flute. “But it’s okay, yes? The hair? It’s more comfortable now.”
Wang Yibo nodded in agreement, still smiling. To be honest, Xiao Zhan looked more than great. He looked splendid. He looked...healthier. It had hurt to let Xiao Zhan go to move back to his parents’ house a few weeks ago but seeing him today, coping up and looking better, Wang Yibo figured it was a good decision for now. He only had to endure those lonely nights. It was almost physically painful, being away from Xiao Zhan this way, but he decided he would take it. If this was how Xiao Zhan liked it to be, then he would give it to him. He would be more patient. He would wait for him as a loyal husband should. But not without doing anything to reel him back in.
“Actually, Zhan-ge, I’d like to talk about something,” Wang Yibo suddenly said.
Xiao Zhan cocked his head to the side. “Okay?”
“What’s your favorite book?”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer immediately, thinking. “It’s probably not what you remember.”
“I know,” Wang Yibo said. “It’s okay.”
“Uh…it’s a book called ‘You and Me’ written by Wan Fang.”
“You and M— really, though?” Wang Yibo said in a mocking voice, teasing. It was what he remembered. Xiao Zhan’s favorite book when he was younger used to be The Little Prince but he told Wang Yibo he really loved the long and winding self-reflections and family drama he had found in You and Me. They actually used to laugh about it that his real life he had escaped from was literally one. Wang Yibo let out a wry grin now, not pondering on the fact that Xiao Zhan had been coming back to that life once again. “Anyway, okay so, you probably told other people to read it, right?”
Xiao Zhan nodded. “Lu-jie, I think.”
And me. Though he hadn’t finished it yet. He was halfway through from what he remembered. “Okay,” Wang Yibo said. “You probably thought after you finished reading it... wow that was good. I wish I could experience it all over again.”
Xiao Zhan smiled. “I guess so. It’s a good book.”
“Yes. So I think that’s how we should look at this.”
“...I don’t…?” Xiao Zhan slitted his eyes, head tilting in mild confusion. “What do you mean?”
Wang Yibo took a deep breath, grinning. “You can’t remember me at all,” he started.
“I do remember you—”
“Yes, but you don’t remember me as your husband who had successfully wooed you for weeks and months until you forgave me and decided to spare me a chance. You only remember me as that guy you hate because I was somehow involved in ruining something that was close to your heart which was Chuanli.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer. He looked contemplative, mulling over Wang Yibo’s words as he looked at him straight in the eyes.
“Because of that, you can’t remember how we fell in love. You know, the crazy kind—”
“Crazy kind?” A playful smirk tugged Xiao Zhan’s lips.
“Crazy kind,” Wang Yibo nodded earnestly. “That’s how I love you and that’s how you love me, Zhan-ge. I know you don’t believe me at this point but yeah. We were—we are— so madly in love with each other. And forgetting that kind of love...forgetting me, it’s… I mean, it sucks. Let’s be honest about it.”
Xiao Zhan looked away, huffing a short, embarrassed laugh; his neck and ears were pink. “You really are so blunt, huh. And a little conceited—”
“That’s what you love about me. Among the million things I was and I am.”
Xiao Zhan looked back at him, waiting for him to continue.
“But even if you forget all of those, that was the greatest time of our lives. And I just thought it would be cool if we can get to experience it all over again.”
Xiao Zhan seemed to be catching up. “Like reading your favorite book for the first time.”
“Exactly,” Wang Yibo said. “That’s why I’d like to ask you out. On a date.”
Xiao Zhan looked a little taken aback. He bit his lip, fighting off a smile. “Mmmm. A date, huh?”
“Yes. Like two ordinary people only meeting for the first time.”
He hummed, still looking at Wang Yibo.
“I cannot promise you anything,” Wang Yibo added. “I can’t assure you that this will make you remember something but the point is: if life took our memories away from you, then we’ll just have to make new ones instead.”
Wang Yibo knew Xiao Zhan could turn him down. After all, he was still a stranger to his eyes. Someone whom he wasn’t familiar with. He also knew Xiao Zhan was most likely inclined to not accept any dating offers now from anyone especially him but, fuck everything else. Wang Yibo wouldn’t go down without a fight. Even if rejection was a major possibility, he only had to find a way to wheedle back to Xiao Zhan’s heart. He had to try over and over again.
“Okay.” Xiao Zhan nodded. He was smiling softly now but Wang Yibo still noticed the hovering doubt in his eyes. “A date, then.”
Wang Yibo grinned. I’ll make you fall in love with me again, Zhan-ge, he thought, relief and happiness surging in his chest. He plucked a flute of champagne from a passing waiter, clinking it to Xiao Zhan’s own. “Cheers,” and he took a sip.
4 years ago
“Dude—Yibo—I told you—just back off— I don’t think Xiao Zhan will appreciate seeing your face again—!”
Wang Yibo didn’t give heed to any of the words Kim Sungjoo was saying at the moment. He continuously strode towards the playroom of the orphanage, a few cans of paint in his arms.
“Yibo—what the fuck—?” Kim Sungjoo said, exasperated. Fortunately, his legs were as long as Yibo’s so it was easy to keep up with his pace. “I specifically told Seungyeon to keep you occupied today! Aren’t you getting tired? I mean? This is hardcore rejection already! And many times at that!”
Wang Yibo only snickered. “Hyung, it’s not as if you don’t know me!” he said. “And I told you, right? I will show you. You are wrong about Zhan-ge—”
“Zhan-ge? Zhan-ge????” Sungjoo’s face morphed into panic. “Yibo. Are you really trying to get murdered???”
“Aw, come on, he wouldn’t do that! He’s the soft, gentle type.”
“Yibo—he literally punched your face the first time he met you—”
“Amazing, isn’t he? But don’t let that fool you! He’s just like that—my pretty little firecracker.”
“Your pretty little firecra— Oh god, Yibo, you are so fucking doomed—”
Kim Sungjoo was right. It was indeed, hardcore rejection as he had emphasized but Wang Yibo wasn’t the one to be easily deterred about meager stuff like that. “You’re the one who told me before, hyung,” Wang Yibo had said. “I did all sorts of heartless things before which was pretty gutsy and shameless of me. So, what’s there to lose? I want to win him over, so.”
Wang Yibo knew Kim Sungjoo was only worried. He appreciated the sentiment, to be honest. After all, Xiao Zhan was proving to be really difficult to appease. But if they thought he would easily back down after everything, then they were definitely wrong.
Wang Yibo had been visiting the orphanage regularly to catch Xiao Zhan in those times he would visit as well. For weeks he had kept this arrangement; interacting with the kids by playing and talking to them, helping with the chores and weekly events, assisting the feeding program and monthly medical check-up by calming down all the crying toddlers…
These weren’t Wang Yibo’s style. These were mostly Kim Sungjoo’s if he was being honest. It wasn’t that Wang Yibo was a heartless person but it was just, helping others as a pastime or hobby was so… not him. And if he really thought about it, he was more used to ruining lives than helping build them.
Ugh. He never wanted to admit it but he really was Yuehua’s lapdog once upon a time.
Things had dramatically changed, at least. He knew his sins weren’t erased and he wasn’t still a good person, not by a long shot but, “Well, Sungjoo-hyung is right. At least you don’t seem to be inherently evil anymore.” Cho Seungyeon had told him. “I mean, Yixuan-ge, I’d believe he wasn’t, like, tainted or anything with all your years with Yuehua but Yibo, you seem pretty cold and evil to me even before so at least now that you cut all your ties, it was toned dow— ack! That hurt, jackass! I’m only telling the truth—!”
He wouldn’t deny he had started these orphanage visits because of Xiao Zhan. But as time progressed, Wang Yibo was surprised to find himself actually enjoying these simple works of charity. Gradually, that became the reason why he kept coming back. Not only because of wanting to see Xiao Zhan anymore but also because he finally felt like he could see the appeal of doing something good for others just for the sake of helping.
“That’s why it’s called charity, man,” Kim Sungjoo told him before when Wang Yibo had opened the subject named Charity And The Wonders of It. “Charity isn’t charity if it’s not coming from the goodness of your heart. And Xiao Zhan-boshi seems pretty good at it. Unlike you. Do you really believe you guys match at all?”
That had earned an eye roll from Wang Yibo himself. At first, he had wondered if these hyungs of his really knew him at all. Everybody seemed to think that he was only doing this thing with Xiao Zhan because it was a part of his “game”. It was as though they didn’t really believe it when he told them over hard drinks one Friday evening that he wasn’t doing this just because he was enjoying the chase and the exciting play of winning over someone’s heart who literally despises you.
“Why can’t you just support me this time, huh?” Wang Yibo had grumbled to them, pouting. “I really like him! Like, I genuinely want to date him and take him out to dinner—”
“And have sex with him?” Li Wenhan had raised a brow.
“Of course, I want to have sex with him!” Wang Yibo had been tipsy that night. “I mean who doesn’t?”
“I don’t want to have sex with him,” Zhou Yixuan mumbled and—
“Well, you’re straight!” Wang Yibo retorted. “But—really—it’s a moot point! Thing is, I like him. And I’m not doing all of this for some shitty game, alright?”
Wang Yibo was met with silence at his words. Then after a few moments, Kim Sungjoo resignedly spoke, “It’s not that we don’t believe you, Yibo-ah,” he said. “But it’s just… Think about it: with all the bad blood and, you know, the history with you being associated with Yuehua before… Don’t you think your situation is already kind of…a lost cause?”
“I mean, come on. We get it. You like him. But Yibo, I don’t really think…he likes you. And I don’t think he will ever like you back. In that way, at least.”
Wang Yibo had scoffed a laugh at them that night. He understood what his friends were trying to say. Okay, he thought. At least they don’t think I’m only playing a game anymore like some fucking casanova. So, “Alright, I’ll show you.” Wang Yibo had smirked, sheer determination churning in his guts. Kim Sungjoo had groaned, and Cho Seungyeon and Zhou Yixuan clinked their glasses, saluting Wang Yibo off with his suicide mission. Li Wenhan had only chuckled, boredly propping his chin on a palm.
That drunken conversation actually led to all aforementioned rejections week by week by week. If Wang Yibo was determined to woo Xiao Zhan-boshi with the use of his tactics, mischievous smirks, and all his childish tendencies, Xiao Zhan was also adamant in giving him the cold shoulder.
It was a little pathetic, Yibo would admit. But goddammit. Hard rejection it was, then. He would take it. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try again, as much as he wanted to.
“Yibo. You know Xiao Zhan takes the mural painting seriously, right?” Kim Sungjoo had told him now. They stopped just outside the double doors of the playroom, the entrance from inside the orphanage, and Wang Yibo could already hear the squeals of the children, helping Xiao Zhan paint the murals on all sides of the room.
Wang Yibo looked at Sungjoo, raising an eyebrow. “Yes. He’s an artist. Of course, he’d take this seriously.”
Kim Sungjoo nodded. “Then are you sure he would want to see your face again today, distracting him?”
That made Wang Yibo perk up. “Do you think I… distract him?”
“In a bad way. Not in the way you’re thinking.”
“Pffft,” Wang Yibo huffed. “Yeah, right,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’s just going to ignore me all day, most probably. You know, like always. So you don’t need to worry.”
Wang Yibo was about to enter the room when Kim Sungjoo’s arm braced across the door, barging his entrance. He didn’t turn. “Hyung,” he said. “I know what I’m doing, trust me.”
Sungjoo shook his head slowly. “If you already know you’re about to get ignored then why bother doing this?” He paused. “Yibo, I know you’re genuine and you mean well, but…”
After a moment, Yibo looked at him. He was smiling lightly. “Thank you, hyung,” he said, sincere. “But it’s fine, I swear. I’ll be fine.”
Kim Sungjoo didn’t bother saying anything more. The arm he braced across the entrance fell back on his side, allowing Wang Yibo his entry.
“Jingjing, have you seen A-Lian?” Xiao Zhan asked a little teenage girl who was concentrating on painting one part of the mural wall as Xiao Zhan instructed.
The girl turned, distracted. “Ah...I’ve seen her earlier, gege! She’s over there…and...oh. She’s gone? I thought I saw her only sitting there, doing nothing?”
Xiao Zhan imperceptibly sighed. He paused his own work and turned to search for the other kid. “Just continue, okay? I’m going to look for A-Lian.”
“Okay, gege!” The children chorused together.
A-Lian was a newcomer. It was only a couple of weeks since she stayed at the orphanage as the only survivor in a fire accident that killed the rest of her family. Her other relatives had migrated to the States a long time ago and they had been told it would take a couple more weeks to settle some legal documents so her relatives could take her in. She had been undergoing psychological treatments and was temporarily under the supervision of the orphanage’s administration at least until her adoption papers were finalized.
Xiao Zhan had been worried, of course. A-Lian was only seven. They were also told she used to be an energetic little girl. Playful, giggly. The type who always played dolls and dress-up with the neighborhood kids. But now after Xiao Zhan had observed her for the past couple of weeks, he realized she was reduced into a timid child. Never talking, ignoring the other kids. Withdrawn and always alone. It wasn’t her fault. Xiao Zhan completely understood. But all this time, his heart would ache. Why is life so cruel? he would ask, projecting his own bitterness. Why is life so cruel especially to those who never really deserved it?
He couldn’t find the kid anywhere. The playroom they were currently in wasn’t that vast. In a quick sweep of his eyes among the scattered sea of children in the room, Xiao Zhan could already tell A-Lian wasn’t there. But she was here earlier, he thought. He had made sure of that. He believed even if she wouldn’t like to participate in painting the room, Xiao Zhan thought he could draw on her own in one corner. He had seen her sketches from the hospital reports; she was good at drawing. Her parents had been artists.
He noticed that the other adult who was supposed to be in the playroom with them was also missing. Wang Yibo arrived earlier as he had expected, carrying extra cans of paint for all of them to consume. He was still the same as ever—lacked attention, conceited, so full of himself. (As if those juvenile antics would work with Xiao Zhan! It only made him grit his teeth and his eye muscle tick in annoyance and exasperation.) He had never indulged him a glance or a conversation. Xiao Zhan had been irritated at his first few attempts, yes, but later on, he realized that was probably Wang Yibo’s agenda. So apathy, he gave. He chose to contain his ire, only treating him like air. Every week Wang Yibo would greet him hello, every week he would walk him back to his car, trying to engage him in a conversation, asking him out for a date. And every week Xiao Zhan wouldn’t reply.
Serves him right, he thought. He was already being nice. At least Xiao Zhan wasn’t lashing out.
He was about to look for A-Lian back to the bedrooms where he usually stayed when he noticed the figures on the veranda leading to the garden. Right, he realized. A-Lian should be there—
“Oh, wow. You also know how to draw a dog? I don’t know how to draw animals! Can you show me…?”
Xiao Zhan was startled to hear Wang Yibo’s voice as if he had been talking to—
“Mm. Okay, gege,” A-Lian said in a quiet voice.
Xiao Zhan’s eyes widened. This was the first time she heard A-Lian speak. Usually, she would communicate with a nod or a shake of her head.
He didn’t approach them. He held himself back as he leaned on the nearby wall, his own body hidden from their view.
“...wow, this is amazing! Why don’t you help Zhan-ge and the other kids with the mural? You know with the painting they’re doing on the wall?”
“...I don’t wanna…”
“I’m scared of Xiao Zhan-gege. They said he’s a doctor. I do not like doctors. They always smell weird and they always ask me about mommy and daddy. They always make me draw stuff when I don’t wanna and I only want to go home.”
“Are you also a doctor, Bo-ge???”
“...No, no… I’m not a doctor…”
“Then, I like you.”
“Thank you, A-Lian. I appreciate that…”
“But…you see…” Wang Yibo cleared his throat. “Xiao Zhan-gege isn’t like that.”
“What does that mean?”
“...I mean… Xiao Zhan-gege isn’t a bad person.”
“I heard Sungjoo-gege and you talking last week. He said Xiao Zhan-gege hates you that’s why he’s not talking to you. I don’t like that… He’s a meanie.”
A strangled laugh escaped from Wang Yibo. “...aghh—that man—shibal—I mean—ha ha! Forget what I said! But okay. Um. A-Lian. How do I put this… Uh… Do you want to know a secret?”
“I’ll tell you a secret about me.”
“You see...Bo-ge was actually the bad person before.”
“Mn. I used to be.”
“...Do you say bad words and throw rocks at dogs?”
“Er...yeah. I mean. The bad words, yes. But I don’t? Throw rocks at dogs?”
“Do you spit at old grannies?”
“.......No. Never. That’s… No. That’s terrible.”
“Then how are you a bad person???”
“Mmm… Let’s see… How do I put this? Well. I was a bad person because I worked with the big bad bosses.”
“You mean the government???”
“I—what the—? Where did you learn all these things?”
A-Lian’s voice became small, “......Mommy and Daddy…”
“Do you want to talk about them instead?”
Xiao Zhan imagined the little girl shaking her head as a no.
“Okay, we won’t talk about them. But. You know they love you so much, don’t you?”
“Good girl.” The smile was obvious in Wang Yibo’s voice. She must have nodded. “So. Hm. Where were we? Ah, yeah. I worked with the big bad bosses. Not the government, no. Technically, Yuehua’s a private company owned by capitalist motherf—…athers—sorry—owned by big bad adults who liked exploiting people for their own selfish whims and investments.”
“That means they make me do bad things, you know? For example, they told me to...analyze and strategize—like, create many complicated adult stuff—in taking a little hospital down just so we could own it and turn it into a...resort and casino which is like...er...a big mall and playroom for adults wherein they do useless stuff like waste money instead of donating it to the poor.” A pause. “Still with me?”
“So yeah. You see, that was bad, right? Imagine closing a hospital down? A-Lian, even if doctors are scary, they still help treat the sick. And they cure them inside the hospital. Without it, the ill people won’t have any rooms and beds to use. They won’t be cured.”
“They will die. Just like my parents.”
“I am fine, Bo-ge.”
“...Are you sure…?”
“So…yeah. That was how me and Xiao Zhan-gege met. Because he used to be a doctor in that small hospital. But because Bo-ge was bad, I didn’t care. I still turned the hospital into a casino.”
A gasp. “You were a bad gege!”
“I know, I know...but anyway, yeah. That’s how it is. That’s why Xiao Zhan-gege is mad at me right now. I am still trying to...apologize, you see. But I don’t really think he will forgive me any time soon…”
“He really cares for the people around him, especially about the people he came to love and he considers a family. That’s why I understand why he hates me so much. Because he was hurt. I know what I did, and I know I deserve this.”
“And so going back: he’s not a bad person. He really cares about you. And he tries so hard to make you feel comfortable and at home here at the orphanage. He knows you might not be ready and he understands you so much, I could tell, so please do not think badly of him. He isn’t any doctor that will force you to talk about how you feel or what happened...or what you remembered during…”
“Xiao Zhan-gege is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and encountered in my entire life.” Wang Yibo’s voice sounded very sincere. Xiao Zhan didn’t know what to think. “Also: he’s beautiful. Really, really pretty. He’s special that way, huh?”
There was a long silence that followed. Xiao Zhan didn’t dare move. He was afraid he would get caught eavesdropping at a very...personal conversation. He knew it was ridiculous but he felt like he was intruding—
“Bo-ge… If you really like Xiao Zhan-gege this much, then I think I will not dislike him anymore.”
“...What do you mean…?”
“Mmm…… I dunno. But I think I believe you…”
“Really? You believe me?”
“Wow. Didn’t know I can convince a child that easily, huh . . .”
When Wang Yibo saw Xiao Zhan already walking towards his car to go home, he made a move to follow him. The sound of his footsteps following behind might’ve become all too familiar now for Xiao Zhan after all those months. It was always followed by Wang Yibo’s usual jab, saying something along the lines of: “Zhan-ge! Are you going home? Aren’t you tired? Don’t you wanna grab a drink or something first—or—I dunno—?”
Looking back, Wang Yibo had no idea what kind of luck had finally struck him that afternoon.
When asked a few years later what was really running inside Xiao Zhan’s mind that moment, the only thing that he would say was: I was terribly, terribly tired. My whole being was just—so drained and I was so sick of your same spiel you kept on spouting for months!
Well. He knew Xiao Zhan was tired. That bit should be true. He knew visiting the kids at the orphanage had always been so fun but always felt so exhausting.
So maybe all of it was just luck, altogether. Maybe Xiao Zhan had really been tired that all rationality in him that moment was simply...not there.
Xiao Zhan opened his car door but paused before he threw himself at the driver’s seat. He turned to look at WangYibo with a straight face, his eyes not giving anything away. “Baoshi Condominium Complex at Shijingshan. Unit 602. If you’re not there at exactly 10 AM to pick me up this coming Sunday, then you can forget about everything.”
He left him after that, standing like a statue while processing his words in shock over and over again.
Just before the car veered off though, Wang Yibo managed to unfreeze himself. He didn’t know if Xiao Zhan had seen him through the rearview mirror, because Wang Yibo couldn’t care less already if he saw him pump a fist in the air.
5 days after the engagement party
Wang Yibo had rang the doorbell two minutes before 10 AM. It was Xiao Zhan who answered the door.
“Hi,” he greeted, smiling amicably.
“Hey,” Wang Yibo said, smirking. “Are you ready?”
Xiao Zhan shrugged. “Sure,” he said, peering around for the Prius that was actually Xiao Zhan’s. “Um. You didn’t bring a car…?”
Wang Yibo grinned, and it was only when a helmet onto Xiao Zhan that he realized he brought one. Not a car, exactly, but…
“Wait a moment. Are you sure this is safe?” Xiao Zhan gaped at the sleek motorcycle parked behind Wang Yibo.
Wang Yibo had laughed at his face, amused. “What kind of question is that?” He was already walking towards his bike. “Come on, now.”
Xiao Zhan was quite reluctant at first but he willed himself to step forward, braving his first ever motorcycle ride.
“It’s not your first time, ge. You should know that!” Wang Yibo said to him and Xiao Zhan chided himself for speaking his thoughts out loud.
“I know. But I forgot my first time. So technically, this feels like my first.”
They were already settled on the motorcycle, and Yibo reached back to wind Xiao Zhan’s arms around his torso. “Fair point,” Wang Yibo said, the grin in his voice evident. “And that’s okay. Today we’re just going to do some of your first times with me all over again.”
Before he could stop himself, Xiao Zhan immediately said without thinking, “Ah, well. I just have to be back before 10 AM in the morning the next day. My parents should be arriving at noon.” He paused, mulling his words. “I mean—”
Wang Yibo was already wheezing a laugh, his shoulders shaking. He had kicked the engine alive, maneuvering them off the curb. “Wow! So you’re entertaining the idea that I can keep you until tomorrow? Why, Zhan-ge, what were you thinking when I said about doing some of our first times all over again?”
Xiao Zhan sputtered, not being able to come up with a good response. He hit him between the shoulder blades.
“You’re blushing, aren’t you?!” Wang Yibo said loudly over the roar of his bike’s engine, against the whooshing wind around them. He was still laughing. Xiao Zhan didn’t respond, but he felt a little bit more comfortable now, embracing Wang Yibo from behind.
Their first stop for today was a local hotpot place situated downtown. The diner was kind of shabby, in Xiao Zhan’s opinion but he was surprised when Wang Yibo told him it was actually Xiao Zhan himself who discovered this place.
“This is your favorite restaurant,” Wang Yibo relayed. The waiter was already preparing their soup, meat, greens and all the side dishes and ingredients on their “usual” booth. Xiao Zhan’s mouth watered. Most of them seemed spicy.
“I figured,” Xiao Zhan grinned, looking up at the waiter. “This is Szechuan cuisine, am I right?”
The waiter—a young teenage boy—looked at him. “Um. Yes? It’s the usual set, gege.”
Xiao Zhan’s smile faltered. “Oh, uh. D’you know me? I mean? We’re regulars here, right? That guy and I.”
The waiter glanced worriedly at Wang Yibo, as if asking for permission. Oh. It seemed Yibo had already given them a head’s up. Wang Yibo only smiled, nodding. Then, “Yes, Xiao Zhan-gege. I have known you and Yibo-gege for a while now,”
Xiao Zhan smiled shyly. “I’m sorry if… I can’t remember your name?”
The boy smiled. “It’s okay! Yibo-gege already told me…” he trailed off. “My name’s Guo Cheng. My folks run the place. Ma and Da are not here today so it’s only me.”
“Oh,” Xiao Zhan said.
Guo Cheng smiled again. “Anyway. Gotta go back to work now, gege! Please enjoy! Hope you remember everything soon!”
When Guo Cheng was gone, Xiao Zhan said to Yibo, “I have a lot of...friends that I… forgot like Guo Cheng, haven’t I?” he said. “I remember seeing many unfamiliar faces in all our collection of photographs back...at our place.” He couldn’t say home yet.
Wang Yibo exhaled, stirring their pot. Steam billowed upward as Xiao Zhan waited for Wang Yibo’s reply. “Quite,” he said. “But you don’t have to worry about them now,” he assured, smiling at him. “You don’t have to force yourself to remember. Our goal for today is to make new memories, right?” he said. “So I want you to focus on me this time. Only me. This is our second-first date. Ask anything and everything.”
Xiao Zhan laughed, helping in preparing the soup as well. “Second-first date?” he asked. “That’s kind of weird.”
“Our situation is kind of weird,” Wang Yibo said.
“True,” Xiao Zhan nodded, smiling ruefully.
The food was great. Mid-lunch, Wang Yibo was already so red in the face that Xiao Zhan was finding it hard to suppress his giggles. He was enjoying the food, but he didn’t realize Wang Yibo’s spice tolerance was not as strong as his.
“Why’d you even—?” Xiao Zhan giggled. “You didn’t tell me your tolerance isn’t too high! Why’d we even go to this place?”
Wang Yibo was shaking his head. “No, ge. It’s okay. I came to love spicy food because of y—” his words were followed by a fit of coughing.
“Are you sure?” Xiao Zhan laughed at his effort.
Wang Yibo nodded, drinking a glass of water. “It’s just—it’s been a while. But I’m fine!” he choked.
Xiao Zhan shook his head slowly, unconsciously reaching over to dab some tissue on the corner of Wang Yibo’s mouth.
Don’t make it weird, idiot, he inwardly chanted when Wang Yibo smiled at the gesture, staring at him. Xiao Zhan pulled his hand back, rubbing the tip of his own nose with a finger.
He heard Wang Yibo snort. “Now you’re embarrassed, huh.”
Xiao Zhan narrowed his eyes, “I’m not. Who says I am?”
Wang Yibo only shook his head slowly, grinning.
They continued eating, finishing their own portions. Wang Yibo ate slowly, but Xiao Zhan was pretty sure it was only because the food was so spicy he was taking it easy. Xiao Zhan was already full, just finishing some of the side dishes.
Then suddenly, “What’s your favorite color?” Xiao Zhan asked.
If Wang Yibo was taken aback by his question, he didn’t let it show. “Green.”
He nodded. “I gathered,” he said. “What’s your favorite song?”
“Hm…” Wang Yibo contemplated. “I don’t have any. Kepler, maybe?”
Xiao Zhan’s eyes widened. “By Yanzi?? I love her!”
Wang Yibo smirked. “I know. There was one time you never shut up about her one week straight. Blasted all the same songs and albums the whole unit every day. I think that was after we went to her concert in Singapore the same year we got married.”
Oh. Xiao Zhan tilted his head, pouring himself a glass of water. “So... it’s your favorite song...because of me? It’s... my favorite song as well, right?”
Wang Yibo grinned. “That and EXO’s Nabisonyeo.”
Xiao Zhan almost spat the water he was drinking. He put the glass down, coughing a little. “You even knew—? Why would you—!?”
Wang Yibo chortled. “Why? EXO’s cool. You like pretty much all their songs. But Love Me Right was your favourite… What d’you call that? Era?” He looked amused. “You have all their physical albums back home. But I think you missed them all when you were...rummaging.” A pause. “Oh, you also have their lightstick. That thing is sick.”
Aiya, Xiao Zhan thought. His ears burned. “Right,” he said, composing himself and eating a pickle. “So what else, huh?” he said. “What about our favorite movies?”
“Hmm. We like racing films. And superhero movies. I don’t like anything scary or gorey.” Wang Yibo shrugged. “I have nightmares.”
Xiao Zhan snorted a giggle. “Are you serious?”
Wang Yibo jutted his bottom lip. “Yeah.”
Xiao Zhan threw his head back, laughing. Then, “What else? Uh… Any hidden talents?”
Wang Yibo let out a very boyish grin. “I’m good at dancing hiphop,” he said. Xiao Zhan blinked. “And I can speak fluent Korean. A bit of your native dialect as well.”
“Seriously???” Xiao Zhan leaned forward, impressed. “Wow! That is so surprising! How’d you learn to speak Korean?” He paused. “Wait—are you actually from Korea? I thought you’re from Luoyang?? But you mentioned some of your friends are Korean???”
“Nah,” Wang Yibo laughed. “I’m really from Luoyang, Henan. My parents are there as well, being busy, as you know. They were asking about you, by the way. You missed them when they visited a few months ago, around the time when we had the...accident.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t know what to say. “O-Oh.”
“I explained to them the situation, telling them you can’t meet any...people at that point,” Wang Yibo continued. “And my mom… She likes you. So I just don’t want her to… you know. Get sad.”
Wang Yibo smiled, bumping their knees underneath the table. “Anyway, yeah. I was from Luoyang. I spent High School and College in Korea, though. That’s where I met Sungjoo-hyung and the rest. We’re all from the same university. Afterwards, they decided to venture here in China, for business purposes. I guess we just stuck together, all five of us.”
Xiao Zhan nodded, listening intently. “Wow,” he said. “That was...interesting,” he smiled. “How about your dancing? I guess it’s just a pure hobby?”
Wang Yibo shrugged. “I guess,” he said. “I’ve been coaching trainees at the agency. But not so much nowadays. I kind of leave everything to Wenhan and Seungyeon’s hands at the moment. The chairman understands. He’s aware I’m busy—y’know…”
“...taking care of your amnesiac husband,” Xiao Zhan sadly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This is such an inconvenience, isn’t it?”
“No,” Wang Yibo scowled at that. “You’ll never be an inconvenience to me, Zhan-ge,” he said. “I had vowed to be with you for the rest of my life. To fiercely love you in all your forms. To never forget this once in a lifetime love. And to always know in the deepest part of my soul that no matter what challenges might carry us apart, we will always find our way back to each other.”
Xiao Zhan remembered those lines. Those were Wang Yibo’s vows he recited at the museum a few years back. He wanted to reel the memories in. He wanted to replay them all in his mind from the original time he actually heard it for the first time and not just from a commemorative video playing on his laptop.
But then, nothing. The memories were still nonexistent. He only felt self-disappointment and a deep-kind of sorrow that reverberated in the center of his bones.
He just smiled at his so-called husband, not able to voice out his apology.
Then after a few heartbeats, he exhaled, waving the sad atmosphere off, “Oh, whatever,” he said, pouring himself another glass of water. “So, what else? Any casual or vital information I need to know?” he smiled coyly, feeling a little bold. “Bedroom preferences? Weird fetishes or anything?”
Wang Yibo wasn’t backing down in this one. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to find out?” he laughed. “But since you’re asking—I’d let you know, ge: you like it when I speak in Korean. While, you know, I fuck y—”
Wang Yibo’s words dissolved in titters as Xiao Zhan stood up and quickly covered his mouth with his hand. “Why are you like this!?” he hissed. God, this guy…!
They went to a nearby park afterwards. They spent most of the afternoon there, renting bicycles and skateboards for each one of them and trying to test Wang Yibo’s theory that Xiao Zhan would still know how to ride a bike since he had taught him already last summer.
Xiao Zhan had been ecstatic, basking in the golden sun of spring as he raced Wang Yibo around the park, realizing he actually knew how to ride a bike and good god. All his life he thought he would die without having his balance problems fixed. It felt so nice! His own body could literally remember what his mind couldn’t!
Apparently, he only knew how to ride a bike and not the skateboard. So Xiao Zhan only watched as Wang Yibo showed off his skills, indulging him with whoops of laughter and yells of “Wow! Very nice! Looking good, Yibo!” everytime Wang Yibo would land a perfect flip or complicated trick.
It was nearing dusk when Xiao Zhan realized he was enjoying himself.
It came out as a surprise, to be honest, because he thought for sure today would end up being an awkward date.
He had kind of wished today would really turn out badly.
But unfortunately, today was actually... great. He really, really liked it so much. He had never felt this carefree before. And Wang Yibo… Wang Yibo was just… Wang Yibo.
This would surely suck later on for him.
It rained heavily after they had dinner which only consisted of a pack of beer and some skewers from the street vendors dotted here and there at the entrance of the park. They swiftly fled and went under a shed but not without soaking them both from head to toe.
Luckily, one of Wang Yibo’s sub-offices was only a few blocks away. They decided to brave the walk all the way there, teeth chattering and non-stop laughing when fellow pedestrians would glance weirdly at them probably wondering who the fuck were these idiots?
“Did you—did you see the security guard?” Xiao Zhan was still giggling as they reached Wang Yibo’s floor. It was a Sunday evening; no one was around except them.
“No, ge,” Wang Yibo snickered, shaking his dripping hair out like a dog. “Why? What did he do?”
Xiao Zhan was already feeling some stitches at his side from laughing too much. “He looked so scandalized! I don’t think he believed you when you said you own the 17th floor,” he said. “Oh god, my stomach hurts so much—I can’t laugh anymore—”
He was suddenly swathed in a fluffy white fabric, and Xiao Zhan only smiled as Wang Yibo rubbed the soft towel on his dripping hair.
“Why are there towels in your office…” Xiao Zhan murmured, closing his eyes and letting Wang Yibo dry his hair off. He had situated himself on top of a marble table at one corner of the room. Wang Yibo was standing in between his parted legs.
“Just so,” Wang Yibo said, continuously toweling him off. “Seungyeon-hyung has some spare clothes here, too. I think we can borrow them.”
Xiao Zhan was about to open his eyes and meet Wang Yibo’s gaze head-on when he felt shivers crawl up his spine. He hummed, decidedly keeping his eyes closed as he let Wang Yibo continue, discovering that he was actually relishing the feeling of the moment.
He inhaled slowly through his nose, thinking of Wang Yibo’s hands in his hair.
After toweling Xiao Zhan off, Yibo stepped away from his space, handing him a set of assorted clothes. “Change into these,” he said. Xiao Zhan had already opened his eyes, watching Wang Yibo turn around to give him some privacy.
Despite his lanky built, Wang Yibo was all sharp lines and lean muscles. He wasn’t too skinny nor too buff, but the slope of his shoulders and the contours of his body that his drenched clothes made impossible to unsee told Xiao Zhan that he had a very good physique.
Xiao Zhan unconsciously licked his lips, feeling his suddenly very parched throat.
Well, he thought about it later on, there’s nothing wrong with this, is there? After all, Wang Yibo was supposed to be his at some point and Xiao Zhan’s heart was beating so fast and wow. Was he nervous? He shouldn’t be. This was normal and everything was fine and the shifting muscles of Wang Yibo’s back just…emaciated all of Xiao Zhan’s logical senses, sending them all down the drain.
He quickly scanned the room they were in. It was dark, the main lights switched off. The only source of light was coming from the cityscape outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, poorly illuminating their gauche figures.
There was no CCTV camera in sight, and there was a perfectly wide and long conference table in the middle of the room.
Swiftly, Xiao Zhan unmounted himself off the marble table. He peeled his dripping clothes off, stripping fully naked. He didn’t reach for the spare clothing Wang Yibo had given him; instead, his feet slowly padded forward, stopping directly behind Wang Yibo who was still drying his ears off with his towel.
“Yibo,” Xiao Zhan called softly.
Wang Yibo turned. “Ge—did the clothes fit—?”
Xiao Zhan wasted no time. He surged; capturing Wang Yibo’s mouth in a searing kiss that made all the blood in his body travel south. He was so hot everywhere, though. He could feel it. His hands, his arms, his face, his dick. He was so fucking hard.
Wang Yibo moved in instincts as well. Which was amazing, because he moved like they both fit together. He knew the exact angle he needed to tilt his face as they kissed before diving his tongue inside Xiao Zhan’s mouth. He knew how to swallow Xiao Zhan’s gasps when his hands reached out on his chest, rolling Xiao Zhan’s right nipple between a thumb and forefinger before pulling it in a hard tug.
Wang Yibo was still fully clothed, though. So Xiao Zhan desperately tried to tear his clothes off him, wanting to feel the burn of his skin under his own palms. He was stripped of clothing in under one minute.
“Zhan-ge,” Wang Yibo said. Shit. His raspy voice sent spikes of pleasure straight to his dick. What the hell was happening? Wang Yibo wasn’t even touching him directly yet.
Xiao Zhan panted, mouth following Wang Yibo’s own every time he would pull away to gasp for air.
He braced his arms on Wang Yibo’s shoulders, and Xiao Zhan couldn’t care anymore how he looked, rubbing their groins together to chase that delicious friction. He only knew he wanted to be touched. And he wanted Wang Yibo to do it.
“Ge,” Wang Yibo whispered after a while against his neck. His left hand was still twisting one of Xiao Zhan’s perky little buds while his other one was fondling Xiao Zhan’s butt cheek behind, kneading it slowly as his fingers ghosted his crack. Their dicks were slapping on each other’s stomachs, continuously leaking by the tip. “Tell me—tell me what you want—”
“Touch me,” Xiao Zhan breathed. Wang Yibo kissed him. “Just—just touch me—please—”
“Are you sure?” he said, sucking the skin below his ear. The hand touching Xiao Zhan’s behind suddenly shifted, and Xiao Zhan let out a long moan, feeling the same hand engulfing both their dicks.
His hands… he realized. His hands are big…
“Yibo—I’m—! Going to com—”
Wang Yibo pulled away a little, “No you’re not,” he said lowly. “Not yet,” and he dragged Xiao Zhan towards the conference table, helping him sit on top of it. He kissed him again, his tongue painting the roof of Xiao Zhan’s mouth.
When Xiao Zhan wrapped his arms around Wang Yibo’s neck once again, Wang Yibo pushed him slowly; lying him flat on his back against the wooden plane. Wang Yibo was still standing by the edge of the table, between Xiao Zhan’s legs and, “I missed you, ge,” he murmured as he pulled away to appreciate the view: Xiao Zhan, mildly-debauched, lying like an offering atop Wang Yibo’s office table. His dick was still so full and so ready to explode. It hurt; it physically hurt to let Wang Yibo just stand between his parted legs devouring his image like that and Xiao Zhan knew he should be embarrassed but something was telling him he ought not to be. Because this was Wang Yibo looking at him. And these were his husband’s eyes feasting over his bareness.
“Yibo,” Xiao Zhan pleaded once again, covering his face with his hands. His dick twitched in need, but Wang Yibo wouldn’t stop looking.
Then, “Hey—hey—ge—shh—don’t cover your face,” Wang Yibo said, crowding his space once again. “I missed this flushed face. Don’t hide it from me—”
For the umpteenth time that day, Xiao Zhan didn’t know what to do or what to say. He stared at Wang Yibo as he pulled his hands away from his face, smiling down at him. Xiao Zhan felt his massive palms skimming the expanse of his thighs, trailing by his sides and arms and chest and stomach.
“I really missed you,” Wang Yibo murmured. His pupils were blown wide; eyes so, so dark. He leaned downwards, the tip of his nose touching Xiao Zhan’s sternum. “Do you really want me to touch you…?”
“Yes!” Xiao Zhan squirmed. “I’m fucking leaking on your table Wang Yibo—”
Wang Yibo let out a chuckle, consuming his next words with a filthy kiss and reducing it into a groan.
“Okay, then,” Wang Yibo said against his mouth. His kiss tasted like mischief. “Okay.”
There was a glint in his eyes that Xiao Zhan wasn’t able to catch before Wang Yibo shifted, sucking the surface of his neck. Xiao Zhan whimpered when Wang Yibo’s lips travelled down his chest and harshly sucked once again, teeth grazing his skin—
Oh, Xiao Zhan realized. Oh.
He almost came three times while Wang Yibo was mapping the rest of his body. It was otherworldly, the sensation. The feeling of being brought on the edge but never really tipping over it. Xiao Zhan was already a sobbing mess when Wang Yibo reached his inner thighs.
He had thought he would pass out before Wang Yibo could do anything with his hard-on, but thankfully, after a long while of waiting and begging, Wang Yibo finally spat at his hole and before Xiao Zhan could register anything, there was already a tongue—strong and wet and enthusiastic—lapping him like he was a tasty special treat.
Xiao Zhan’s hands flew; his left one moving to grab a fistful of Wang Yibo’s hair, keeping him in place, and the other reaching for his own dick, fisting it impatiently. He couldn’t take it anymore.
However, Wang Yibo seemed to realize this and he shifted, hooking one of Xiao Zhan’s legs on his shoulder before batting the hand Xiao Zhan was using to pump his dick to replace it with his own.
This caused Xiao Zhan to sob, a garbled mess of words pouring out from his lips because—fuck. Even the way Wang Yibo stroked Xiao Zhan’s dick was so much better than when he did it on his own.
His body was saying it all for him, he realized.
What your mind couldn’t remember, your body surely would…
God, Xiao Zhan had thought, and after a few more seconds, he quaked, finally coming with a cry.
The moments that followed were a little hazy for Xiao Zhan. He vaguely remembered the details in between. But he was sure Wang Yibo had cleaned him up and helped him put on the spare clothes before he passed out in his arms.
But: What am I supposed to do? was still the last lingering thought Xiao Zhan had before sleep overcame him. What am I supposed to feel…? Yibo… Tell me…
Chapter 5: PART V
contemplations (n.) deep reflective thoughts
Their footsteps echoed loudly as Wang Yibo—together with a handful of his staff and colleagues—walked along a hallway leading to one of the building’s dance studios. He was supposed to conduct a surprise visit around the whole headquarters in preparation for his comeback at the office after a few months of letting Cho Seungyeon and Li Wenhan take the reins in all of his managerial duties as one of UNIQ Entertainment’s Executive Officers. Everybody was on edge, as expected, and Wang Yibo knew that everyone (especially those in the administrative and operations department) had cursed the heavens when they learnt that their CEO Wang was going to return. Not to mention the trainees’ panic when they realized Wang Yibo would most likely go back to his regular routine every few weeks or so as one of their coaches—the coldest, most uptight and strictest of them all. Everybody thought he was too hands-on for a dance consultant but this was how he had started even before they were absorbed by Huayi, so Wang Yibo believed that as long as he had the right to do whatever the fuck he wanted as CEO, then he didn’t see any reason to stop coaching. Besides, nobody could do it better than him, so nobody could actually tell him off.
“Uh… sir, the trainees have been expecting you so they’re really practicing a lot these days,” Cheng Xiao tried to say now in a low voice, which Wang Yibo could translate as Please don’t be too hard on them.
Wang Yibo let out a small smile, still walking ahead. He hummed as he was thumbing his phone, a hand casually stuffed in his pocket. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to coach. The old man just wants me to observe and look around today,” he lifted his eyes and smiled. “But it’s still better if they can impress me, even just a little.”
“The new group Liao-xiansheng formed a month ago might impress you, sir,” a staff member said from his left. “Half are fresh recruits and half already debuted as actors. One is from America.”
Wang Yibo hummed again, gaze going back to his iPhone. He didn’t reply immediately, a ghost of a smirk hiding in his face. Then, “I do hope not all of them are visual material only,” he said. These words were said offhandedly but his staff still began to look nervous. Wang Yibo lifted his head and stared at him meaningfully. “If you know what I mean.”
The same staff opened his mouth and closed it again. He cleared his throat, fixing his necktie. The other staff members grew a little uncomfortable; some were dabbing handkerchiefs on their temples. “Ah, of course not, sir. The girls are spectacularly talented…”
Said girls were not spectacularly talented, Wang Yibo learnt a few minutes later, seeing them perform for the first time. He didn’t comment further, though, and chose to watch them perform silently. They would improve, sure. But Wang Yibo was uncertain if all of them could actually debut as soon as next month, as per schedule. Cheng Xiao had been holding her breath the entire time, but she managed to whisper “I think they are nervous. It’s their first time seeing you, sir. And you know how people tend to be when they hear the rumors about you…”
Wang Yibo turned to look at her, eyes in slits. “I’m not doing anything,” he said, a little wounded, and Cheng Xiao only shrugged, giving him a pointed look. “I don’t like that look,” and Cheng Xiao shook her head. “I’m doing my best, aren’t I? No snarky, cold remarks or anything like that. At least this time,” he said. Then he added, “I was reminded to behave.”
“You mean the chairman, sir?”
“Nah. The old man could care less. He just wants me to prance around. I don’t know what he’s thinking, honestly…”
“...If it’s not the chairman…” Cheng Xiao cocked her head, trying to catch his eyes. “...Oh,” her eyes glanced at Wang Yibo’s phone in his hand which lit up at once and caused him to thumb on it again. “So I take it your date with your husband went well?”
Wang Yibo threw her a side-glance, amused. “You can say that.”
“Ah...I see. That is why. Makes sense.”
“What,” Wang Yibo frowned at her. “What makes sense?”
His executive secretary smiled at him, genuinely pleased. “I’m glad, sir. I’m sincerely glad with your...progress.”
Wang Yibo looked at her for moment, not exactly knowing what she meant. He didn’t ask anymore, and only smiled back at her, not saying anything else.
They went to visit other departments after that, and those offices on the mezzanine floors. Wenhan had joined them right after their visit in the Advertising department, garnering a remark of “You’re late,” from Wang Yibo which didn’t really have a bite.
“Sorry, I got caught up in traffic but...hang on, why are we even visiting the mezzanine offices?” he asked, recognizing the route their group was taking.
It was Cheng Xiao who answered in whispers. “The chairman wants him to look around more.”
Wang Yibo heard Wenhan snort. “Aiyoo… But here our laoban is, smiling and cooing at his phone,” he whispered back. They both giggled like little children.
That made Wang Yibo look at him and smile sharply. He pocketed his phone, sighing. “Alright, I’ll pay more attention now,” he loosened his tie a bit, tilting his head side by side, and Wenhan let out a smirk, rolling his eyes.
“Oh no no, sir. We won’t hold that against you. Carry on, carry on… Please tell him your dear hyung Wenhan says hi.” Cheng Xiao stifled a giggle.
Wang Yibo let the teasing go, but he was indeed, a little distracted all throughout, quietly checking his phone from time to time. Thankfully, all he had to do was nod and throw his seemingly-uncaring glances at people. He let Wenhan and Cheng Xiao do most of the talking anyway, and some of his staff included in his entourage were the ones primarily absorbing the attention. It wasn’t every day that the CEO would take a stroll all around the offices, after all. He also had a suspicion that the chairman had been wanting him to go back and see if he was still stable enough, considering the accident and what had happened with Xiao Zhan.
And speaking of Xiao Zhan…
Wang Yibo checked his phone, finally throwing himself on the couch in his own office, Wenhan following suit. It was a few minutes before noon when they finished traversing all floors. Wang Yibo had wondered why Seungyeon didn’t show up but his question was answered when they found him already inside Wang Yibo’s office, lounging in the executive chair, playing with his switch and munching on chips.
“Yo,” Cho Seungyeon greeted them without taking his eyes off his game. “Heard from the interns CEO Wang was roaming around.”
Wang Yibo ignored him and Wenhan’s accompanying titters, pulling up Xiao Zhan’s message at WeChat.
Ah, yes. Lu-jie and I had plans tonight. Another time again maybe?
He smiled at Xiao Zhan’s response when he had asked him if he was busy tonight, wanting to eat dinner together. it doesnt have to be a date. i just want to eat with you, he had assured, but oh, well. It seemed Xuan Lu had beaten him to it.
i see, he texted now. how bout this weekend, ge??
I don’t see a problem this weekend. But I will pay this time
He laughed lightly to himself. ok then, he texted. this weekend!!! ur treat.
Suddenly, he distinctly remembered a time before they got married when Xiao Zhan would always insist to have them alternately pay for each other every time they would go out. Wang Yibo felt giddy now, and he was relieved and happy, knowing Xiao Zhan was proving to be the same. Their memories together might’ve been wiped clean, but Xiao Zhan’s heart remained.
He knew everything had changed. He knew his husband didn’t remember a lot of things, especially his own feelings, and possibly the love they both have for each other. But Wang Yibo knew it was still there. He knew it because he had felt it himself. And Wang Yibo knew that that brand of love, the one that Xiao Zhan had, was not something that could easily…disappear. It wasn’t something that would be gone just because of a head trauma or…a biological reaction from an extensive force. Wang Yibo never believed their love was as weak as everyone had subjected it to be.
There was a time before the accident when he had asked Xiao Zhan: “Zhan-ge, if, say, I never got myself out of Yuehua. And I am still the cool but terrifying guy you had always loathed—”
Xiao Zhan had snorted at this, his shoulders shaking in low laughter. They were cuddling naked under the sheets that night, just a little after they had made love. Wang Yibo was spooning him from behind and his cock was still inside Xiao Zhan, warm and already soft. He bit Xiao Zhan’s earlobe when he continuously giggled at Wang Yibo’s words. “Why are you laughing at me, huh?”
“You thought you looked like a cool but terrifying guy back then?” Xiao Zhan asked.
“…Well. I’m still cool now.”
“Hehee. You always thought you’re so cool… it makes you look more cute.”
“I am cool!”
“Ai, if you say so… but you know… you’ve never been… terrifying to me.”
“Mmmhm..” Wang Yibo’s lips skimmed the column of his neck. “But do you think you would still forgive me if I didn’t…change?”
Xiao Zhan started squirming. Wang Yibo sensed he wanted to turn to face him but he stayed put because he didn’t want to disconnect their bodies, keeping his come plugged inside Xiao Zhan even when it began leaking out to the sheets. “What do you…mean…” Xiao Zhan hummed.
“Would you still like me even if I… stayed the way I was before…?”
Xiao Zhan seemed to have contemplated his words before he said it. It took him a while, but Wang Yibo only tightened his embrace, realizing Xiao Zhan words contained a faint smile when he finally answered. “I think…one way or another…I will still fall in love with you.”
Wang Yibo’s eyelashes fluttered against Xiao Zhan’s cheek; his cock impossibly began to harden again at his reply, and gradually, it also had Xiao Zhan blushing and moaning for another round, which caused him to start moving his hips in circles. The squelching sounds of the mixture of Wang Yibo’s come and the lube they used sounded so lewdly between them.
“Really?” Wang Yibo said, and he began rocking into Xiao Zhan, reaching to grasp his husband’s cock in his bigger palms. Xiao Zhan keened. “How would you know that? You hated me with all your being. I don’t think you’ll still fall in love with me if I…stayed with Yuehua…doing all those things…”
Xiao Zhan’s answer was a high moan at first. Then, “Baby,” he sighed. Wang Yibo smiled. “I didn’t…fall in love only with the Yibo who didn’t stay with them. Nor did I fall in love only when you left. And not only because you finally did.”
Wang Yibo shifted them so Xiao Zhan was underneath. His smile was slow and radiant that night, so incandescent. He looked up at him with glassy eyes, reflecting his own face. Wang Yibo slowly fucked him as he watched his face, open and vulnerable. “I’ll admit I’m happy you managed to break free,” his gasp was short. Wang Yibo slowed down a bit, allowing him to speak clearly. “But Yibo, apart from all the things I can’t properly express… I did fall in love with you because I realized you are good. And that one way or another, even without us meeting at all, I just knew you’ll eventually find your way out.”
“So if you’re asking me if I think I’ll still fall in love… yes. Because I believe in you. You want to know why?”
“Because you care.” Xiao Zhan reached out to push back Wang Yibo’s slightly damp hair falling over his face. “You care and love and feel so much more than you ever realize yourself.” Wang Yibo was breathing hard, but he didn’t know if it was because of Xiao Zhan’s words or the fact that he was buried to the hilt in his husband’s wet heat and Xiao Zhan was all…flushed…and still staring up at him with all those stars in his eyes. “You are good. I have doubted a lot of things in my life, but not this, not you. So don’t ever doubt yourself, because I don’t. Even if our lives hadn’t interlapped the way they did, I knew. I will still fall in love with you…”
That night had been one of Wang Yibo’s favorite moments of impact.
It was not a very special night, if he remembered correctly. No special occasion or eventful happening, but somehow, that just stuck. And perhaps the reason why it remained intact in his head was for today, to give him something to hold onto when everything and everyone seemed to strip him of hope and strength.
All his friends had been supportive, of course. But the warnings they were giving him were consistent and only fair. Wang Yibo was always trying to push the feeling down—the apprehension and a tad bit of dread for what the future might be—and he always tried to stay positive.
“So…” Wenhan started now. “Has he remembered anything yet?”
Wang Yibo placed his phone on the coffee table in front of him. “Nope,” he said.
“Ah, that sucks. Thought with how your date went last week, he’ll remember at least a moment or two.”
He laughed at Wenhan’s words, half-bitter and half amused. “I told you all. It won’t matter to me anymore. If his memories won’t resurface then I’ll court him until he completely falls for me all over again.” The memories aren’t the ones that are important. It’s his feelings.
A chip flew in front of Wang Yibo’s nose, landing on his carpet. He glared at Cho Seungyeon. “Oi.”
“You really evolved into such a romantic motherfucker, huh,” Seungyeon said, lowering his game console and eyeing him. “And Yibo, for the record, I, too, am happy for you.”
Wang Yibo waited, hearing the ‘but’ before Seungyeon said it.
“But you still gotta be careful. Xiao Zhan-hyung might like you to an extent after you fucked his brains out last week—”
“We did not fuck.” Technically.
“—but you must consider: it could’ve appeared to him like a casual hook-up or something, and in the end, if he chooses to, you know, completely move on and shit… his feelings will be spared. Whereas you…”
No more words were added after that, but Wang Yibo stayed quiet for a long moment, not offering a response. He heard Wenhan sigh softly, mirroring his anxiety. Then, “You don’t understand,” Wang Yibo said quietly, head hanging low. He missed Wenhan and Seungyeon’s exchange of furtive glances. “I can’t...guard my feelings and disinvest myself to him. I love him. I married him, for fuck’s sake. D’you think it’s easy to withdraw and let his parents have their way to him? No.”
“I know what he feels for me right now isn’t like before anymore. And I also know his feelings are unstable at the moment,” he paused. “But despite that, I have my faith in him.”
“Yibo,” Wenhan started, “You know we didn’t mean to sound like we want you to drop him or anything, yes? It’s true that we’re all glad that there’s a little progress. And that he at least doesn’t hate you so strongly anymore. But we’re still worried, as your friends. You can’t take that away from us.”
“I know,” Wang Yibo said. “And I’m grateful. I’m truly grateful, hyung. But this is my husband, and I can’t easily—” he stood up and started pacing back and forth. Then he paused. “I can’t help myself. For now, all I can do is hope.”
“What if he still decides to divorce you afterwards?” Seungyeon asked him, looking at him steadily across the room. His game was completely abandoned now, and he and Wenhan waited as Wang Yibo’s mind reeled, slightly pained at the raised question. “Cut you off like what his parents are coaxing him all along. Can you live with that?”
No, Wang Yibo answered inwardly. I think I might just die. “I’ll try to,” he said as truthfully as possible. He could feel the flare of pain on the inside of his palms, making him clench his fists imperceptibly. “But for now, all I have is my faith in him. Regardless if he ends up completely breaking me in the end. I’ll always love him no matter what.”
Xiao Zhan had his face propped on one hand as he smiled at his phone, scrolling up and down while rereading a particular chat box in his WeChat when he was greeted with a caterwauling cry of a five-year-old as the door of the clinic opened. He immediately looked up, alert, and quickly stood up from his seat, pocketing his phone.
“What happened?” he said to another kid who looked around thirteen. He was carrying the crying little boy in a piggy back ride.
“He fell from a tree but I caught him just fine,” the boy put the younger kid on a bed. “He doesn’t seem hurt, but can you give him a candy? So he can stop crying.”
Xiao Zhan blinked. “A candy,” he repeated, frowning at these two children. Then he realized the younger one was indeed unhurt, but the older boy had a bleeding scrape on his arm. “Hm. Very well, then. I’ll give him one. You, on the other hand, please follow me,” looking pointedly at the wound.
Xiao Zhan had been volunteering himself at a nearby elementary school when they suddenly opened up the position for the school doctor. His parents were against it, naturally, wanting him to rest more and unwind. They also wanted him to start applying in different hospitals in Chongqing since Mrs. Xiao had been looking forward to spend Mid-Autumn there as well. “Maybe we can move back already!” she said enthusiastically. “A-Zhan, if you choose to move back home, your father can help you build a clinic there. Your very own, like what you have always dreamt of.”
Xiao Zhan was surprised to hear this. “Ma, that’s...too much. You don’t have to do that.”
“And why not?” Mr. Xiao said. “If I can fund you a clinic just so you’ll go home with us, why not? Lulu and her husband can start there as well. Chongqing is a better place to start a family and raise kids, than here in the capital, if you ask me!”
“A-Zhan, your father can offer you a position at Chang-an, too. They are even opening a new branch at Beibei. That’s only half-an-hour drive from the main house, dear...”
His parents had begun their casual remarks here and there about connections and transfer and clinic and so on and so forth the moment they learnt that their son had filed an indefinite leave of absence at Shunyi. Xiao Zhan couldn’t bring himself to go back yet. He could feel a particular pull, yes, but after all, Shunyi was unfamiliar to him. He was well-aware that he had friends there—patients and colleagues alike—but he couldn’t face them all without recalling their names.
Xiao Zhan had been mulling over his parents’ propositions ever since, and he would admit all of these were generous offers, tempting him to an extreme. In fact, he was almost sure he would say yes, please, help me and take me away from this unfamiliar place I don’t know. He wanted to go home and start all over; he really did want to. But these past few days, he kept surprising himself by suddenly feeling unsure.
Did he really want to go home?
Or did he only want to escape from his real home just because he didn’t have the strength yet to rediscover himself?
He told himself he would tell Wang Yibo his decisions soon, and that it was better if the news would come from him. But…
He couldn’t make up his mind at this point.
He had predicted things would surely suck for him, but he didn’t expect how utterly complicated and difficult choosing would be.
Why did he even let Wang Yibo touch him so intimately that night, if he would feel like this afterwards?!
He thought perhaps the phantom touch of Wang Yibo’s lips and skin against his own would fade over time, but if anything, Xiao Zhan felt like the memory of his touch grew…potent. Like Wang Yibo’s hands were hot iron brands that had seared his skin, refusing to heal.
The amazing thing was…Xiao Zhan’s body actually responded.
And he liked it. Very much, so. Even now when he thought of that…moment, his skin would tingle all over that he had to bite his lips and close his eyes and will himself to calm down or else he would tremble.
Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night gasping Wang Yibo’s name, missing the heat and pressure of his hands feeling him up. It wasn’t uncomfortable, no. But what concerned him was the feeling it kept on putting in his chest.
What was this? he wondered. Why am I feeling like this…? Xiao Zhan wasn’t sure if he liked to know. He was pretty sure things and plans would start being jumbled up if he started to chase some…feelings now.
He had to focus and be smart. He needed to be logical this time, not emotional. So, he tried to divert himself into thinking about Chang-an.
Chang-an was an ideal workplace, practically speaking. He might not be sure about the new branch at Beibei his mother was talking about but he would assume the system, facilities and equipment were all high-grade as well. He could see himself snagging a professorship position there, too.
His parents, having been one of the founders of the hospital, owned solely 40% of the whole share. It had been one of Xiao Zhan’s best choices if he would pick a place for his long-term career, especially now that he needed to focus on his specialization. Even when he was still at medical school, Chang-an had always been an option. Up until he decided in the middle of his residency that he wanted to give it a shot for Chuanli—a low-rated public hospital Xuan Lu was independently trying to rebuild at the time. Xiao Zhan’s sudden decision was frowned upon by his parents, but he had reassured them that he would go back to Chang-an after he had helped his sister.
(Chuanli was a tragedy now, needless to say. But he supposed there was no use of torturing himself over things in the past anymore, even if he was surely stuck with it ever since he woke up after that goddamned accident. He was still nursing his scabs Chuanli had left, but at least the wound was getting better.)
His parents had let him go, in the end, even if Xiao Zhan also managed to get Yizhou to transfer with him as well, which was another loss of great skill and asset for his parents. His parents might’ve thought he was unstoppable, but perhaps they couldn’t afford of letting Xiao Zhan leave them completely, so they made peace with it when Xiao Zhan gave his promise of returning for the fellowship program.
He and Yizhou had been doing great, the last time he remembered. They weren’t officially engaged or anything; Xiao Zhan didn’t even know how they went from friends to colleagues to something special, but he remembered Yizhou giving him a ring at some point, and asking him whether he wanted to run away. From what? he had asked then, but he couldn’t remember whether Yizhou had answered him at all. He couldn’t even tell if that was a real memory or just a figment of his imagination anymore, given his circumstances now. He only wondered what could’ve possibly happened to them that led into a fallout which resulted Xiao Zhan into marrying Wang Yibo, instead.
“Ma… I’m… I don’t know if I’m already fit to work full time, frankly speaking,” he had confessed to his mother. “I’m still confused about a lot of things in my life right now. I just...want to settle everything and at least know where I actually stand.”
“Is this about that pretend-husband of yours?” Mr. Xiao had asked him. “Is he still pestering you? That’s why you can’t make a decision?”
Mrs. Xiao let out a sigh. “I knew Lulu shouldn’t have invited him at the party…—”
Xiao Zhan pursed his lips, frowning a little. “Yibo is one of the reasons, I admit,” he said. “But you know I have to settle everything else, like, the studio I left behind, this orphanage, my work at Shunyi… And I can’t face them head on if I don’t even know a single thing about my recent years,” a pause. “And please don’t talk about Yibo like that in front of me. I know you dislike him but he is not my pretend-husband. I am legally married to him and in contrast to everything negative I’ve known about him…he is actually a good man.”
His parents didn’t reply at that, but he could feel the tension he had started. He continued: “Honestly, I am also wondering about Yizhou,” he looked at his parents. “I’ve been wanting to meet him again and to...talk about things. We should still be in speaking terms, I’m pretty sure, but I heard he’s been out of town so—”
His next few words had been halted by the sudden ring of the doorbell somewhere downstairs.
“Oh, I—honey, I think my visitors are already here,” Mrs. Xiao excused herself, looking actually pale, as she hurriedly exited the conversation a little too quickly.
Xiao Zhan opened his mouth to say something, but his mother didn’t give him a chance. He only stared at her worriedly, wondering what did he say to upset her.
“Your mother and I don’t want you talking about things of the past, son,” his father muttered, signaling his own exit as well. Xiao Zhan bit his lip, somehow feeling guilty for making his parents uncomfortable. He didn’t know why. They were the ones grilling him in the first place… “Limit some things you’d say. She has been worried sick. You know that.”
“I apologize…” he said, and his father hadn't replied.
Xiao Zhan sighed now, cutting off his reverie. He shook his head a little and tried to focus instead on his present task ahead.
The younger boy apparently shut up when Xiao Zhan gave him a candy, then he tended to the older one afterwards.
“Which class are you from?” Xiao Zhan murmured, cleaning the kid’s arm first. He was sitting on a stool by the bed where the kid had perched himself. “You’re a fifth grader?”
“I see,” Xiao Zhan hummed. He started to dab Betadine on his scrapes using a cotton and a medical plier. The kid wasn’t even wincing. “How’d your friend end up falling from the tree, anyway?”
“He’s not my friend,” he said. “His classmates were teasing him. He cried and didn’t know what to do, so he climbed up the tree to get away.”
“Ah…” Xiao Zhan murmured. “Why isn’t he your friend? It looks like you cared for him that much. You saved him.”
“You even brought him here.”
“I don’t have friends. He’s just a little kid.”
“Eh? You’re just a little kid as well,” Xiao Zhan laughed. “What, you thought you’re already an adult?”
Xiao Zhan raised a brow at his little patient. “Why are you staring at me like that…?” he asked slowly.
“…I don’t like you.”
Xiao Zhan giggled, shaking his head. “Well, I like you. You thought you’re so cool… it makes you look more cute,” he grinned. “You remind me of someone.”
The kid cocked his head to the side, looking haughty. “Who?”
Xiao Zhan’s brows knitted together. “Just…” he paused. “Someone…” he stared at the kid. “I don’t know. I don’t remember, actually. But I know you remind me of…” his words trailed off, “someone.”
The boy scowled at him, watching Xiao Zhan think and think. “You’re very weird, doctor.”
That snapped Xiao Zhan’s attention back. “Why, thank you,” he said almost sarcastically. “I’d take that as a compliment.”
Truth be told, that kid reminded Xiao Zhan of Wang Yibo.
He didn’t know how, but he really had a strong sense of déjà vu just now.
Maybe the kid was right. He was starting to get really weird.
First, the upsurging feelings.
If this went on, he thought he would find himself in a more… complicated situation.
He sighed, a hand running down his face.
His cellphone vibrated in his coat pocket when the two boys left the clinic a few moments after he patched up the older kid.
He was sure it was Wang Yibo once again, sending him mundane things like a shameless I miss you, or just casual questions about what Xiao Zhan was doing.
It turned out he was right; it was a message asking how he had been doing…for the past weeks since the accident.
Xiao Zhan frowned at the context, realizing he was only right about what the message entailed. The sender, however, was an unknown number.
I’m sorry but this is a newly registered phone. I lost my contacts a while ago. May I know who is this and how did you get my number?
So quick to forget me, Zhanzhan? the unknown number replied.
Xiao Zhan thought hard. This person must’ve known him personally.
He was already typing “I’m sorry if I don’t have your number saved…” when the person replied once again.
I heard you went to find me a while ago, when I was gone, the message said.
Xiao Zhan paused typing, and a certain feeling appeared in his chest, the same time the sender sent one more message.
I’m back now. Let’s meet.
Xiao Zhan’s smile grew bigger. “Yizhou…” he murmured, then he pressed the Call button without hesitation.
hoax (n.) a falsehood deliberately fabricated to masquerade as the truth
Wang Yibo took a sip of his champagne and the alcohol flowed down his throat very smoothly. It was normally crisp and zesty as all brut champagnes were supposed to taste like, but Wang Yibo was pretty sure these were one of the finest bottles one could ever find. After all, as expected, the Xiaos would only serve the most exquisites, especially when it was for the wedding celebration of their eldest, Xuan Lu.
The ceremony and reception were still held at the Xiao Beijing residence. The ceremony itself was simple and traditional, and Xuan Lu had shone very beautifully in her red-and-gold wedding dress. The whole affair had a combination of Western and Asian motifs. It was a deliberate yet complicated choice, and Wang Yibo remembered Xiao Zhan telling him in the past few weeks while he was helping with the wedding arrangements that at one point, he had become very stressed about them, yet Wang Yibo had reassured him that everything was going to be fine.
It really turned out that Wang Yibo was right. The wedding was perfect, and he thought the convergence of styles and traditions was executed very seamlessly.
From the color of the bride’s nail polish, to the designs of the wedding invitations, and even the interior arrangements of the banquet hall and the main podium… Everything was greatly orchestrated. It might have been a little too posh for the bride and groom’s liking, but it was mostly Mr. and Mrs. Xiao who were funding it all, so of course it had to be theatrical; they even included a few journalists from prestigious magazines in the guest list. Wang Yibo found this a little funny. He almost began to wonder why every bit of scandal under the Xiao name for the past few years was not published. But then again, scandals were scandals, and they were supposed to be repressed and not published. You could almost do anything when you have money.
He took a sip from his champagne flute again. Sweet and tangy, with a hint of almond. It really was a good one, but in truth, Wang Yibo couldn’t appreciate it. He drank it almost mechanically, his eyes never leaving his husband’s figure from a distance.
Xiao Zhan was laughing now, talking with Wang Yizhou, his ex-fiance.
Wang Yibo had been observing them from afar since Xiao Zhan was suddenly whisked away from him by Mrs. Xiao, saying she wanted him to meet some family friends. Wang Yibo nodded, saying it was okay, but a few moments later he found his husband laughing together with Wang Yizhou.
Wow, Wang Yibo frowned inwardly, but before he could do anything else, he caught Mrs. Xiao’s gaze, daring him to move.
And he should. Wang Yibo knew he should. He wanted to take Xiao Zhan away from all these pretentious people surrounding him right now. He wanted to tell him the truth since the very beginning, but he didn’t know if it was the right time, the right moment. He had been wishing Xuan Lu would be the courageous one, but Wang Yibo could tell Xuan Lu was also afraid of what will Xiao Zhan do once he rediscovered his past.
“He’s looking a lot better now, don’t you think?” A voice suddenly said. Wang Yibo turned, and he hid his surprise when he realized who spoke. It was Mr. Xiao. He had a smile on his face, staring at his son like Wang Yibo. He was holding a bottle of whiskey in his hand.
Wang Yibo didn’t respond and just looked at him silently, not refuting his words. He was not wrong. Xiao Zhan was looking a lot better these days since he temporarily moved in with his parents.
“We haven’t talked in a while, Wang Yibo,” Mr. Xiao continued, regarding him.
This time, Wang Yibo said, “We haven’t really talked at all. Like ever.”
Mr. Xiao furrowed his eyebrows. “Well, I think we can change that now.” He slightly raised the bottle in his hand. “Let’s have a chat outside, shall we?” he said before walking away.
Wang Yibo didn’t want to go. He didn’t know if he could stand it. He was already praying he could refrain himself from saying—or doing—some impulsive things. He didn’t want to cause a stir and ruin Xuan Lu’s wedding party.
Then he glanced at Xiao Zhan again who was still chatting with Wang Yizhou. Mrs. Xiao was still hovering like a hawk. Luckily, he spotted Xuan Lu lingering nearby. She mouthed a You okay? to Wang Yibo; she must’ve seen her father beckoning him earlier.
Almost imperceptibly, Wang Yibo flicked his head a bit towards Xiao Zhan, and quickly, Xuan Lu understood.
He didn’t really want to go and have a chat with Mr. Xiao. He felt like he already knew what preposterous things he was going to hear. But, Fuck it, he thought, before following his husband’s father outside.
“You could use a drink, Yibo,” Mr. Xiao said when he poured a glass of whiskey for him.
Several high top tables were scattered all throughout the courtyard. Mr. Xiao chose the one at the very edge of the perimeter, the farthest one away from all the music and lights around the big house, as if he wanted to avoid any eavesdroppers close by. Wang Yibo glanced around before he took the crystal glass offered to him, downing the whiskey in one go.
“That was nice,” he commented about the drink. It was even better than the champagne.
Mr. Xiao hummed, then after a moment, he looked directly at Wang Yibo. “You know, Yibo, I’ve been thinking the past few weeks,” he started, and Wang Yibo thought, There it goes… “That perhaps it would be better if you would let us take over things with A-Zhan.”
Wang Yibo stayed quiet for a moment. He watched as Mr. Xiao poured more whiskey into his glass; his face didn’t change, vacillating between words and phrases he should let out. He tipped the glass contents to his mouth one last time, feeling the nice burn of it in his throat. Then, “Things, what things?” he said calmly.
Mr. Xiao looked at him, face beginning to look skeptical. “I am pretty sure you know what things we are talking about, Wang Yibo,” he clarified. “It means we want you to divorce him.”
Wang Yibo huffed. “What if I don’t like to?”
“What if A-Zhan likes to?”
That made him pause.
Mr. Xiao’s smile glinted sharply. “What if my son does not want you anymore?” he continued. “I have offered to help him build a clinic of his own, as well as a special position at Chang-an, back home in Chongqing. A professorship, even,” he smiled. “Ah, of course a clinic can be easily built without my help. But our own family’s connections will make a big difference. You should know that, Yibo. You are aware how names and investments work in our world.”
“He will not leave me just for your stupid connections.”
“You might be right,” Mr. Xiao quickly agreed. “But that was once upon a time. From what I have witnessed, nothing tethers him to you anymore except maybe for that lingering guilt and the confusion as to why, in the love of god, did he end up with someone like you.”
“You see, what if he wants his freedom this time? I know you will do everything for him. But what if—”
“Yeah, you know a fucking lot about me, about us, don’t you?”
“Do not curse at me.”
“You know a lot of things because you’ve been tracking everything and everyone that will involve Xiao Zhan ever since he wanted to try to be on his own.”
Mr. Xiao narrowed his eyes, but he only waited. “...”
It was now Wang Yibo’s turn to smile at the man in front of him. His eyes glittered in hate as he spoke. “And you knew me not only because Xiao Zhan married me, right? You knew me ever since I was still from Yuehua. Because Chuanli’s downfall isn’t really only Yuehua’s doing all along, isn’t it?”
“Xiao Zhan knew,” Wang Yibo said. “He knew all your filth. You know there’s zero chance of him coming back to you if not because of the accident. But he knew. Of course he knew. About your twisted plans and convoluted tricks. He knew about Yizhou’s involvement, and your disgusting games all along.” He scoffed, not hiding his revulsion. “Maybe you thought everything was just a game, but you were his family, and he loved you so much that until the end, he didn’t want to believe your mistakes and your dirt.” Wang Yibo paused. “But you fucking broke his heart.”
Mr. Xiao opened his mouth to retaliate, but Wang Yibo was not yet finished.
“But you know what? He outgrew all of it. He healed himself.” Wang Yibo went on. “He found a new family with me. I am his family now, along with his new friends in his new life—”
“But he doesn’t remember you,” Mr. Xiao finally interrupted. His words were firm and threatening.
Wang Yibo clenched his fists.
“As you said, there was zero chance of him coming back to us if not because of the accident. But the accident happened, and he forgot his new life you are talking about. Unfortunately for you, he thinks we are his family again,” Mr. Xiao said. “And don’t you think we should already keep it that way?”
Wang Yibo shook his head disbelievingly.
“We are his true family, in flesh and blood. You hold no power over him, aside from the title of being a mere husband, which can easily be forfeited after a few paper arrangements.”
“You’re so fucking sick—”
“What are you going to do, then?” Mr. Xiao raised his brows, mocking him. “You are afraid to tell him the truth. Even Lulu is afraid of the things that might happen.”
“Xiao Zhan is strong. If he got past it before, he could do it aga—”
“But he is psychologically and emotionally unstable at the moment because of the accident and the trauma he subconsciously developed,” Mr. Xiao said. “You know all the ugly things he can do once he discovers the truth. Xiao Zhan has been very emotional ever since he was a child, tsk, tsk. He might even get insane.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you,”
“But I am not wrong, am I? And you are very aware of that, that is why until this moment, you haven’t told him everything.” He was grinning like the devil now, and Wang Yibo had never seen such a cruel thing before. “You are afraid, Wang Yibo. You would’ve told him everything you knew at the very beginning if you are not. You are a coward.”
“You are such a hypocrite,” Wang Yibo said. “You throw cowardice at my face right now as if you haven’t been hiding all these years, not trying to fix your picture-fucking-perfect family with your son. Who is the coward one now, sir?”
Something dark flashed in Mr. Xiao’s eyes. “You don’t have the right—”
“You are taking advantage of Xiao Zhan’s loss of memory to create a hoax of a healthy relationship with him you desperately wanted to regain. For what? For power? For money? For leverage—?”
“For family,” Mr. Xiao cut him off. “I am doing this for the sake of my family.”
Wang Yibo barked a bitter laugh. “No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re not a family man, sir,” he said, feigning courteousness. He was trembling in rage inside, but he had to keep his temper. “Because, if you are,” Wang Yibo leaned closer, and his mouth moved, whispering things to Mr. Xiao’s ear.
The older man wasn’t able to move at Wang Yibo’s words. When Wang Yibo pulled away, his face was impassive, and Mr. Xiao looked pale as a ghost. A soft thud sounded when Wang Yibo placed his crystal glass back on the high top table, beside the newly-opened bottle of whiskey.
No one said a word as Wang Yibo trudged back inside the house.
Wang Yibo willed himself to calm down. He had loosened his tie, pacing back and forth like a fool before he went inside the spacious living room of the house, throwing himself at a couch. He peeled his dark coat off him, almost violently throwing it on the floor. He didn’t though, not wanting to scare the guests milling around him.
Xiao Zhan was nowhere to be found and so was Yizhou. He wondered where the hell were they now and he hoped against hope that they were not in each other’s company anymore.
Wang Yibo remembered Xiao Zhan’s face back at the wedding ceremony. Everyone’s eyes were blinded by the beauty of the bride, who must be the most radiant star for today. But Wang Yibo still couldn’t take his eyes off Xiao Zhan. He remembered their own wedding—a simple registration at the city hall with Kim Sungjoo and Xuan Lu as their witnesses—and their own wedding vow ceremony. He watched as Xiao Zhan smiled at his sister, his eyes glassy as he dabbed a napkin under his lids, preventing the tears from flowing.
Wang Yibo thought, You’re much more beautiful than everyone else, Zhan-ge, back at our own wedding. He squeezed Xiao Zhan’s hand lightly. You are the most beautiful to me.
“What a lonely, pitiful face…” a voice said again.
Wang Yibo closed his eyes, massaging his temples with his fingers. His elbows were propped on his knees. “Can you leave me alone, please,” he grumbled.
Wang Haoxuan snickered. He was Yizhou’s cousin; an old colleague of Xiao Zhan as well. Wang Yibo wasn’t certain but he might’ve been involved as well with all that shit Xiao Zhan’s family had made.
The young surgeon raised his hands. “Sorry, man,” he said, looking unapologetic. “Thought I could introduce you around, eh? You’re looking like the odd-man-out there, on your own.”
“I’m good here,” Wang Yibo said placidly, not wanting to waste his time arguing with some jerk like this one. “Im just waiting for Xiao Zhan.”
Haoxuan shrugged, turning away. “Heh,” he said. “Best of luck with that, comrade.”
Wang Yibo didn’t know how or why, but perhaps it was the sarcasm in Haoxuan’s voice that made him tick. “You guys are liking this, aren’t you?”
Haoxuan paused in his tracks, turning around and facing Wang Yibo again. “I’m sorry?”
Wang Yibo stood up, walking closer to him until they were less than a meter apart. “The fact that Xiao Zhan forgets all your twisted shit, and you get to come out as a clean slate again to him,” he said. “You like it, right?”
Haoxuan laughed lowly. “I’m not going to lie so maybe, yes. I am liking it a little bit.”
Wang Yibo grinned at him, looking amused. He even laughed along. But his nails were already digging so deeply against the skin of his palms. He hid them inside his trouser pockets. “You’re also like them,” he said. “You’re a scum.”
“Uh huh?” Haoxuan flashed a cruel smile. “What, you think you’re not?” he said. “You thought hanging out with a few guys who run pathetic orphanages make you a better man?”
“You’re a scum, too, because you worked with us at the beginning and you didn’t say a word. But you went and got drowned in guilt and thought, ooh. Maybe I can fuck young master Xiao’s brains out. Maybe that should give me the absolution I want—”
“Dude. You’re the one who started this. Why the hell do you want to stop now?” Haoxuan continued. “Besides, what’s there to hide? We know all your messes and you know all of ours. I bet Xiao Zhan told you everything already.”
“That’s right. He told me everything. And he also told me that if not for your pathetic narcissism and self-conceit, you would’ve made a great and competent surgeon.”
Haoxuan’s grin slid off his face. “I am a competent surgeon.”
Wang Yibo nodded almost sympathetically. He deliberately lowered his voice, his eyes skirting around them. “You try and say that to the family of that patient you killed last year due to your own negligence and malpractice,” he said. “Competent?” he chuckled. “Dream on.”
Then unexpectedly, Haoxuan let out a booming laugh. He began to clap slowly, and several guests around them were starting to ogle.
“Wow,” Haoxuan’s eyes widened in excitement. “Your husband really told you everything, didn’t he?”
“Alright,” he relented. “But hey,” he leaned closer now, and Wang Yibo was sure whatever the fuck that was about to come out of his mouth the next second, it was not going to sound good. “Did your husband also tell you that many weeks ago, he came to find my cousin to try and fix things with him?”
Wang Yibo froze.
Haoxuan noticed his sudden pause. “Ooh. I see. He didn’t tell you that one, did he?” he said, and he shifted, as if he saw something behind Wang Yibo. “Well, I guess he doesn’t really need to tell you that already, hm? Because I heard he had successfully thrown himself at Yizhou just last week.” He shook his head.
“Oh wait, shit. You had no idea about that one, too, eh? Hahah. Ah, man. Just look at them,” he casually gestured over Wang Yibo’s shoulder. “Completely inseparable. You think he’s such a good man, huh? With that pretty face of his, he looks like an angel. But the second his husband becomes distracted, he drools over his ex-fiancé and willingly opens his legs for him, just like a fucking slut—”
Wang Yibo punched him.
It seemed as though Haoxuan wasn’t really expecting it, because he ungracefully staggered back until he lost his balance and landed his butt on the floor. His nose was bleeding.
The chaos that followed was predictable, but Wang Yibo’s ears couldn’t hear anything except for a faint ringing in his head.
Then, “Yibo!” someone called out. Wang Yibo already knew it was Xiao Zhan before he turned to face him.
Xiao Zhan looked confused and a little frustrated. He didn’t say a word, but his eyes expressed all the disappointment he must’ve been feeling.
He didn’t wait for Wang Yibo at all before he turned back around, pushing people aside to get away.
“Xiao Zhan!” Wang Yibo called, following him out.
Xiao Zhan’s eyes were red rimmed when he stepped outside the house. He didn’t stop walking until he reached the veranda beside the big house. Most of the guests had rushed inside when the commotion happened, so it was silent now outside.
He heard Wang Yibo’s footsteps following him, and before he could say a word, Xiao Zhan paused, turning on his heel and fixing a look at this man.
His heart constricted once more.
“What the hell are you thinking?” Xiao Zhan said exasperatedly.
Wang Yibo ran a hand on his face. “I’m sorry, ge.” he said. “I was trying so hard to control myself. But Haoxuan—he said things that—” he sighed. “I’m not going to—”
“I don’t care what the hell he said!” Xiao Zhan's voice rose. “You shouldn’t have done that! What the hell are you thinking—!?”
“I don’t fucking know!” Wang Yibo said loudly, matching his own. Xiao Zhan didn’t move. “I don’t fucking know what am I doing anymore!” he went on. “Here I am, trying everything—even making myself look like a fool just to save what we have! And here you are, casually throwing yourself at Yizhou!”
“That is not true!” Xiao Zhan yelled back.
“Then what the fuck is the truth?” Wang Yibo said. His eyes looked so lost, and Xiao Zhan didn’t want to hurt him anymore. “Zhan-ge, I see the way you look at him.”
“I see the way you look at him and I become crazy. I want to take you away because that look—you used to look at me that way. You used to smile at me that way. That look should’ve been only for me!”
“...” Xiao Zhan really didn’t know what to say. The tears he was so desperately trying not to shed finally fell, staining his cheeks with fresh wet streaks.
“I don’t want to believe anyone else, unless I already heard it from you, but,” Wang Yibo sighed. Then, “Did you come looking for Yizhou last week?” he said. He sounded so tired. “And several weeks before that, did you come looking for him?”
Xiao Zhan gnawed his bottom lip, not wanting to answer.
“I did,” he cried. “But it’s not what you’re thinking—”
Wang Yibo turned his back on him. His shoulders went up and down, like he was trying to breathe slowly. Then, “Why do you have to keep it a secret from me,” he finally said.
“I don’t know,” Xiao Zhan croaked. “I just know you’ll be mad.”
Wang Yibo shook his head, but he still wouldn’t face him. “It’s like you’re tearing me up into pieces, Zhan-ge. Everytime I realize that you still can’t remember who I am, it’s like you’re clawing up my guts.”
Xiao Zhan silently cried at his husband’s words.
He didn’t really want to keep it a secret from him. In fact, he had been building up his courage all night to tell him everything—about his confrontations with Yizhou, about his family’s offer to him, and about his final decisions.
He lost hours of sleep trying to think of the best way to open the topic to Wang Yibo without them ending up getting upset with each other. He had hoped that maybe they could end things with a good note. But of course, he wasn’t Fate’s favorite child. Or, maybe he was, that was why.
No matter how much Xiao Zhan wanted to keep things somewhat “fine” between him and his husband, they still ended up like this: Wang Yibo with a betrayed heart and Xiao Zhan with a guilty soul.
He might as well feel his guts were being torn up, too.
Xiao Zhan tried to cease his cries. He exhaled, wanting to end this night already.
“My family offered me a professorship position if I come home with them at Chongqing.”
Wang Yibo finally turned to look at him. “Too bad,” he said. “Because you’re not going anywhere with them. You’re going home with me.”
Xiao Zhan shook his head. “But I am,” he said.
“But I am,” he repeated. “I want to go home. With my parents. I want to go back to Chongqing. I want to start all over again—”
Wang Yibo closed their gap in a few steps. And Xiao Zhan closed his eyes when Wang Yibo placed a palm against his cheek, caressing it.
“Xiao Zhan,” Wang Yibo said. “Think about it. You already left this life behind. You already have your own new life with me.” His voice sounded breathless. “And—and ge, we were happy. We are happy. We’re going to be happy. If you want to start all over again, then we will, yeah? But you can’t leave me. You can’t leave me, I refuse. You can’t do that..”
Xiao Zhan kept shaking his head, eyes still closed.
“Ge,” Wang Yibo’s voice shook. He was pleading now. “Ge, please think about it, alright? You have to think about it. You love me. That’s the truth. And we have our vows to each other, yeah—?”
“I’ve thought about it, Yibo.” Xiao Zhan opened his eyes. “And I think we have to be realistic here, once and for all.”
“I still don’t know who you are. I feel different when I’m with you, and it makes me question all the choices I’ve ever made in my life! Half of them I can't remember anymore but...” his words trailed off.
Slowly, Wang Yibo pulled away. He took a step back, but his eyes never left Xiao Zhan’s face. “Zhan-ge,” he said. His words felt so hollow. He sounded so defeated. “You feel different when you’re with me because that’s the real you.”
“They’ve been trying to dictate and rearrange the way you really are, that’s why you’re being confused.”
“...” Xiao Zhan looked away. Then, “I want to find myself first, then,” he said. “I want to find a way out of this, and I want to do it for myself—”
“Then how about me?” Wang Yibo said. There should be a lot of feelings in that question. Xiao Zhan could feel the upsurge of it seeping on his skin, as if the very air around them was translating Wang Yibo’s grief into his own. But ironically, Wang Yibo’s words were dead. Xiao Zhan realized he must’ve felt so, so tired already. The hollowness in his voice forced Xiao Zhan to turn and look at him again. “How about me, though?”
And Xiao Zhan couldn’t say anything but: “I’m sorry.”
“I’m so tired of disappointing you,” he added.
Maybe he really did love Wang Yibo, he thought.
Because what else could be the explanation why his chest felt like disintegrating the moment Wang Yibo finally let out his tears.
Xiao Zhan looked away.
They stood there, Wang Yibo looking at him, weeping silently, and Xiao Zhan looking anywhere but him.
A few moments passed and he felt Wang Yibo stepping closer once more, and in a matter of seconds, Xiao Zhan was being locked in an embrace. He let him be, not saying a word.
“How do you,” Wang Yibo’s voice broke. “How do you force yourself to walk away from the person you love the most,” he whispered, “when you’d vowed not to give up on them, no matter what…?”
Xiao Zhan didn’t know. He couldn’t open his mouth to answer.
Then, “I love you,” Wang Yibo murmured one last time. “I’m sorry this happened to us.”
Xiao Zhan kept his gaze cast down even when Wang Yibo finally extricated himself from him.
He only closed his eyes and clenched his fists to stop himself from chasing Wang Yibo.
He didn’t open his eyes until the footsteps faded away.
He didn’t open his eyes until the warmth of his last embrace disappeared.
It would be a long, cold night for Xiao Zhan, it seemed.
TO BE CONT’D
Chapter 7: PART VII
epiphanies (n.) a realization; a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo’s divorce papers were finalized ten days after Xuan Lu’s wedding party.
Wang Yibo’s silence after their parting had been profound; a clear sign that the argument they had had at the party really wounded him so badly that he wasn’t able to make any more opposition to their legal separation. Truthfully, Xiao Zhan wasn’t expecting it. It sounded a little conceited and presumptuous even inside his own head but he actually thought Wang Yibo would continuously refuse the divorce and would make ways to not sign the papers.
Then his father’s secretary handed him an envelope one day, saying “It’s all done. Congratulations, sir.” And that was when he realized he had thought wrong.
He should be happy.
This was what he wanted.
He believed this was the right thing to do.
But, why . . .
Why did it feel like this?
Why did the stark ink of Wang Yibo’s signature staring blankly at him from their divorce papers wring his heart so much?
You’ve done the right thing, A-Zhan, his father had said. You’ve done the right thing.
But, “This isn’t the right thing,” Xuan Lu had said. “Zhanzhan, I thought you said you like him? I thought you said you felt something for him when he took you out for a date? I thought it was going well! So why did you suddenly—”
“It’s not about whether I feel something for him or not, jie,” Xiao Zhan had countered.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s about me figuring this all out—how I ended up with who I am today.”
“You do not need to cut your husband off to find yourself again, Zhanzhan.”
“I’m not— cutting him off!”
“Then why did you divorce him!? And so quickly at that!”
“We’ve been trying to mend things since the beginning of the year!” he said exasperatedly. “It’s been months—”
“It’s only April!”
“That’s long enough!”
“Jie!” he said, his voice rising, pleading. “Why can’t you just support me?”
“Because I cannot condone your actions!” Xuan Lu said.
Xiao Zhan’s throat constricted. He didn’t want to argue with his sister further. “Look. This isn’t important to discuss anymore, is it?” he said, trying not to say a few more words that would make things worse. “It’s over. We both have signed the papers. I’m free. Now I’m able to start all over ag—”
“Oh, don’t give me the start-all-over-again crap,” Xuan Lu clearly looked disappointed. “Have you ever thought about what your husband must be feeling at the moment?” she murmured. “Oh, the poor man… He must be so devastated...”
Xiao Zhan frowned. “He’s not my husband anymore!” he said. “And why are you even— Jie, c’mon! I am your brother.”
His sister didn’t reply for a while, but her shoulders sagged lower, fixing a look at him so sad Xiao Zhan had to avert his eyes. She walked closer and held his face with her hands. Then she mumbled: “God, this isn’t you.” Her words were really so sad, and Xiao Zhan was a little surprised when she realized she was crying. He didn’t know what to do. Why was she being like this…?
“Believe me... This isn’t really you,” she went on, and his heart became so heavy that he just pulled her closer and embraced her while she wept silently, as if she was the new divorcee. “This isn’t really you, Zhanzhan, you do not start all over again. You always push through.”
Xiao Zhan sighed, shaking his head. “Not this time, jie. Not this time...”
The move from Beijing to Chongqing took Xiao Zhan and his parents a couple of weeks. Xuan Lu and Yuchen decided to stay behind, choosing to start a family of their own in the capital, considering their work and other businesses. If Xiao Zhan was being honest, he felt a little anxious that he was going home without his sister. He was sure there had been a time when he and Xuan Lu were apart like this, but now that he needed to recall the feeling of being alone yet independent, he couldn’t understand why the memory wouldn’t turn up. He kept thinking: maybe most of those memories were inside the five years the previous accident had taken away, but he quickly dismissed the idea, not liking the headache he would always feel when his mind would wander closely to that matter.
Besides, the whole point of this move was to find solitude and to reset his life. The anxiety should be normal, he kept telling himself. And gradually, he believed he would overcome it.
He had made a last appointment with his attending doctor a few days before his flight back with his parents. As expected, the woman was shocked to hear that Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo chose to separate ways but she could only smile sadly and pat the back of Xiao Zhan’s hand. Thankfully, she didn’t offer any words of consolation; Xiao Zhan wouldn’t have an idea how to accept them, if ever, so he only felt relieved when the doctor didn’t say anything else about the divorce.
“All the tests are clear, I’m sure you knew,” his doctor said. “No hemorrhaging, no swelling.” Xiao Zhan nodded. He had checked the MRI results himself; he wasn’t planning to specialize in neuro, but he believed it would be obvious if there was still something amiss in his scans. “The recurring migraines will pass. Just don’t strain yourself too much, and do not overwork. You know the drill very well.” A pause. “Oh, that being said, since you’re going back to Chongqing, does this mean you are planning to stay at Chang’an? I heard they are opening a new center at Beibei..?”
Xiao Zhan smiled. Words flew fast. “I am, yes.”
“I see,” she said. Then, “May I ask what you would be specializing in?” she inquired, fixing the spectacles atop her nose. “You still have a bit of a long way to go, but if you don’t mind...I’m just merely curious, s’all…?”
“I don’t mind,” Xiao Zhan quickly said, laughing a bit. There was no need to conceal it anymore, since it would be known sooner or later when he came back in the medical circle. So, “Actually, I think I will go for General Surgery,” he paused. “Pediatric, specifically.”
His doctor seemed a little surprised. “That’s very great,” she said. “Have you always liked kids?” she added.
“Not...particularly,” he said somewhat shyly.
“Hmm. Now that you said it, I can easily imagine you with kids, and how simple it will be for you to interact with them. But initially, you didn’t really strike me as . .” she paused, catching her words. “Oh, I’m sorry, that might be rude!”
Xiao Zhan grinned. “No, it’s okay!” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would entertain the idea as well. Pediatrics and all,” he added. “My parents are expecting me to go for neuro, or maybe cardio, but lately, I began to have...other thoughts,” he said. “My sister wasn’t so shocked though. I think pedia had been an obvious option for me before, but, you know, with the accident and all, I guess it’s one of the things I forgot about,” his smile was somewhat rueful. “But, yeah, I think it’s coming back to me bit by bit.”
The woman nodded thoughtfully. “I’m glad. That is a very good progress,” she said, and Xiao Zhan believed so, too. Then, “Well, Xiao Zhan, I am very delighted you’re looking better now, and very healthy. I hope you have a safe trip back home. Please take care of yourself always.”
He didn’t have any more friends to meet to say goodbye to. Well. In reality, he did; he was sure he had several acquaintances he made in Beijing. But he didn’t see it important anymore to seek them all one by one. They had become strangers to him, after all, and it wasn’t like they would meet each other again. And if ever they did, Xiao Zhan wouldn’t recognize them. So it was a moot point.
He wanted to meet with his ex-husband one last time, though. Even if he wasn’t certain if Wang Yibo wanted to see him again.
“I’m sure he does,” Yizhou said to him. It would turn out that he would be the last ‘acquaintance’ Xiao Zhan would meet before he went home. “Only, I don’t think it would be a great idea for you.”
Xiao Zhan laughed at that, scoffing a little. “How so?” he said, sipping his Americano. They met at a Starbucks near Yizhou’s work one day before his flight. “I’m the one who signed the divorce papers first.”
“Anyway, how are you?” Xiao Zhan tried to change the topic. “I haven’t asked about your parents the last time we talked.”
“They’re fine,” Yizhou said, and he reached for his coffee as well. He looked at him over the rim of his own mug.
“And oh, your sister? How is she?”
“She’s doing fine, too.” The answer was too quick this time but Xiao Zhan ignored it.
Then Yizhou cleared his throat, shifting a little. “Zhanzhan…” he said cautiously. “Didn’t Wang Yibo really say anything to you? Anything at all?”
“About… the past five years?”
Xiao Zhan blinked. “Yibo did say a lot. Although he mostly told me stuff about our marriage and our daily lives in the past.”
“Ah,” Yizhou’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Why?” Xiao Zhan dug. “Is there anything else to say?”
He leaned closer. “Yizhou, I know everyone is being very cautious to me even now,” he frowned. “Lu-jie only said there was a big fight we had before, my parents and I, that’s why I never came back. And then, you said you had tried to convince me, but it only resulted in both of us trying to talk each other down. So we fought, too, and I gave back the ring to you.”
“Then that was when Yibo found me after some time, somehow. Even after Chuanli was gone. A typical my-nemesis-becomes-my-husband story.” He scrunched his nose.
Yizhou chuckled lowly. “Typical, huh.”
Xiao Zhan shrugged, “That’s how my sister exactly worded it,” he paused. “So,” hesitated. “Beyond all that...is there anything more to sa—?”
“What if I told you it’s not a typical story, after all?”
Xiao Zhan frowned. A question for a question. He had no idea where this was going. “What do you mean?”
Yizhou straightened up, breathing deeply. “I wouldn’t deny a fact: that man—Wang Yibo—deserves you more than anyone else in this world. To be frank with you, I was surprised when I heard you’re already divorced. I didn’t believe he had easily let you go.”
“I’m not going to say anything more.” Yizhou continued. “I’m not the one who should tell you everything, nor do I believe anyone else who deeply cares for you would. You might have to recall it all by yourself.”
Xiao Zhan’s migraine was gradually coming back again. “What the hell are you saying,” he said lowly. “Don’t make me more anxious than I already am. Just spit it out, whatever you want to say—”
“It’s not my intention to confuse you even further,” Yizhou said as an apology. “But I believe that day will come, Zhanzhan. You will remember. It’s only a matter of time.” Yizhou reached out to clasp Xiao Zhan’s hand.
“When that day comes, I won’t ask for anything. I’ll accept it,” Yizhou went on. “I loved you deeply, you know that. I care for you even now. But I’m…”
“But all I ask is for you to be happy. I do not care where you find that happiness now, but I want you to be.”
Xiao Zhan let out a shaky laugh. “You are starting to get really weird, Yizhou,” he said. “I am only going home! You can come home, too, aiya! You sound like you are saying your goodbyes.”
And Yizhou chuckled again. His laugh was hoarse and a little strained. He raised his brows, emitting an image of mockery, but his smile remained gentle and kind and a bit apologetic. “Oh, ain’t I?” he said. “I thought the coffee was supposed to be your goodbye.”
Xiao Zhan hit him by the shin underneath the table, snorting. “Idiot,” he muttered, and they both laughed. “Let’s do this again sometime,” he offered. “When I come visit again.”
And Yizhou exhaled, still smiling.
Xiao Zhan had already been chief resident in Beibei’s newest private medical center for almost three months when the Qixi festival came around. He had made a lot of friends already out of his new colleagues, and expectedly, a few foes as well.
He couldn’t blame them, truly. The post he easily took was being eyed by a lot of many resident doctors in Chang’an. He also knew the recommendation wouldn’t be quite as effective if not only for his parents’ connections. He tried to ignore the bothersome feeling from the start, considering there were still a lot of people he gained as friends—those who easily saw that he actually deserved the title he had been given—but it wasn’t that easy.
“It’s not that it’s my fault, yes?” Xiao Zhan told Xuan Lu, whose face was on his own phone screen. He just ended his afternoon rounds, and he had no scheduled surgeries today. The ER was also a little calm since the past few days, so it gave him some time to actually sit down. He was hiding now in the safety and solitude of the empty coffee room on the palliative ward, video-calling his sister whilst dutifully catching up with his paperworks.
“Also, I don’t care,” he continued. “I shouldn’t. I like my work here. Being chief resident is nice. The professorship I’ve been promised is coming along, and it’s...it’s great,” he kept nodding, and Xuan Lu was smiling lightly, just staring at him from the screen. “Everything is familiar and steady and I shouldn’t let anyone ruin it.”
There was a hum from his sister. “I miss you,” she sighed. “You might not remember but we used to celebrate Qixi together.”
“Mm. We always grab brunch together even if we have our own boyfriends, then. If you’re too busy with work we’d still go out a few days before or after.”
Xiao Zhan sighed. “I miss you, too, jie. I miss talking to you.”
“We are talking.”
“I mean in person…”
His sister laughed. “Am I the only one you miss…?”
He narrowed his eyes.
“Oh, c’mon…” Xuan Lu said. “You can ask me how he is. I won’t judge.”
Xiao Zhan looked down, writing down for a while. Then, “I know you won’t judge,” he said, biting his lip. “It’s just, I’m not sure if I want to know how he is . . .” He rubbed his cheek, stalling. “I mean, I don’t know if I still have the right to know how is he doing.”
“Do you miss him?” Xuan Lu asked. “For real.” She didn’t sound like anything; it sounded like she was asking a casual question Xiao Zhan could easily not answer.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. He chewed the end of his ball point pen. “Is he...seeing anybody now? I mean it’s Qixi, after all. I’m just...”
Xuan Lu shook her head as a no. “I would’ve heard it,” she answered.
“And truthfully, I don’t think he is planning to see anyone else,” Xiao Zhan pursed his lips at her words. “Not for a long time.”
“There’s something else I want you to know, though,” she suddenly voiced out, cutting the momentary silence off.
Xiao Zhan straightened up from his seat, waiting. “What is i—?”
His eyes widened. “What!?” he said. “WHAT!?”
Xuan Lu was grinning. “Surprise! You’re going to be an uncle!” she laughed, waving a small dark picture at the camera—a sonogram.
Xiao Zhan stood up in excitement. “Oh, my god!” he said. “How long a—”
“Five weeks!” Xuan Lu said. “You’re the first one who gets to know, apart from us,” she informed her brother.
“Oh my god!” Xiao Zhan repeated. He was so happy. “Congratulations, jie! This is such big news—!”
The door behind him opened, and an attending nurse poked her head in. She looked surprised when she saw the chief resident inside. “Ah, I’m so sorry, Dr. Xiao! I heard a shout! I thought some visiting medical students were fooling around—!”
“Aiya, my apologies!” Xiao Zhan bowed, laughing. “I was just talking to someone…” Xuan Lu giggled from his phone.
When the nurse left with another bout of sorrys for him, Xiao Zhan began to arrange his stuff, packing up. He told his sister it’s almost time for him to go anyway, but he should call again at another time.
“You should visit again,” Xuan Lu suggested. “Maybe after Mid-Autumn.”
“Hm, I think I’ll do that,” he said, quickly agreeing. “I’ll buy your little walnut their first baby rocker! Tell your husband to leave that to me, at least!”
“Okay, okay,” Xuan Lu said. “Go on, then. Time to save more lives!”
“ . . . you even realized, that if ever—something disastrous happens—when you’re under my watch, it’s going to be on me, boy! It’s going to be on me—!”
“It’s not going to be on you,” Wang Yibo said coldly. “I told you I’ll do it. I always tell it beforehand—”
“And I always refuse! Those stunts you’re proposing are too dangerous! You cannot simply do them on a whim! You would need preparation—!”
“I told you I’m already prepared! I’m not an amateur, I can handle it—!”
“ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME, WANG YIBO—!”
The racing suit Wang Yibo was wearing that he only used for practices around the circuit was already stripped down halfway, revealing a big ugly scrape on his left arm. A medic was standing beside him, trying her best to clean the bruise. When the coach began to raise his words, the poor woman jumped, wanting to disappear. The hands tending Wang Yibo’s wounds trembled, losing its focus, but Wang Yibo himself didn’t even bat an eyelash.
It was a solid five minutes full of Don’t ever try to fucking pull that shit again before a knock rapped on the door of the room they were in.
The coach halted with his words, and both he and the medic turned to look at the newcomer. Wang Yibo didn’t need to turn to know who it was.
“Good afternoon,” Kim Sungjoo announced his presence, stepping inside the room and closing the door. “I see our star racer has earned an earful once again. What did he do this time?”
Wang Yibo rolled his eyes, staying silent. He murmured a small thanks to the medic, dismissing her, and the woman obviously looked relieved when she was given a chance to go out.
The coach went on and on for a few more minutes, explaining to Kim Sungjoo the details of the crazy stunt Wang Yibo had done while practicing around the circuit just now. He wanted to snort inside, because he knew Sungjoo was not absorbing the entirety of the technical jargons they use. Still, his coach’s ire, along with the words “suicidal” and “crazy” had laid out all the important context Sungjoo needed to know. And also, this wasn’t the first time this actually happened. He just didn’t know why they kept calling Kim Sungjoo every time, as if he was his father and Wang Yibo was a rebellious high-schooler.
“It’s because I’m a sponsor, and I know you, and I’m your friend.” Kim Sungjoo had told him the first time this same situation happened several weeks ago. “Besides, the coach knows no one better to call.”
Wang Yibo was lucky he didn’t bruise that first time he had tried to do some crazy trick during practice, but that still aroused a yellow warning to his team coach. The team just couldn’t really afford to switch members now that the next round in the Zhuhai circuit was just around the corner so he didn’t withdraw Wang Yibo’s name outright. The coach surely heard of Wang Yibo’s accident last winter, of course, and he might’ve resigned into thinking that Wang Yibo would be out of commission for this season, but, still, Wang Yibo had signed himself up at the last minute, allowing himself a few more months to practice. The coach had been glad to count him in, of course. Right until Wang Yibo started going “all out” in his practice sessions.
“I know the race itself is just a hobby for your lot,” the coach’s anger had simmered down now, and his voice became a bit more reproachful instead. He was still addressing Kim Sungjoo who was looking all calm, listening to his every word, but it was obvious that the coach’s words were meant for Wang Yibo. “I know it was never really your priority. It was all but a hobby, albeit an extreme one, ai, given your status.” he continued. “But it doesn’t mean you can do anything on your whim, young man!”
“I have known what happened, and I am sorry,” the coach said. Wang Yibo didn’t say a word. “But you cannot use the ARRC to be your distraction from your personal life—!”
“You’re suspended,” the coach concluded. His words sounded so final that Wang Yibo sucked a sharp breath. “I’m not letting you near the circuit again. Not on my watch.” He nodded at Sungjoo again, patting his shoulder before he left.
Kim Sungjoo sighed. “That went well,” he said.
Wang Yibo scowled at him. He stood up and went to rummage for some clothing in his bag. “I just got suspended, asshole.”
“I heard,” Sungjoo said. He threw himself at a couch, staring up at the ceiling fan above. “Again, that went well. You can finally focus on being a CEO. You have a business you should be running, in case you’re forgetting about it—”
“Why are you even here?” Wang Yibo grunted, changing his clothes. The white shirt he chose wasn’t able to cover the bruise on his arm. He also had a bleeding scrape on his knee, and his left shoulder was a little inflamed; nothing he couldn’t nurse by himself.
“Like all the reasons I was here that first and second time,” Sungjoo quipped at him. “Not to mention Wenhan and Seungyeon asking me to, uh, watch you over.”
“The fuck does that even mean?” Wang Yibo said. “Do you really think I’m suicidal?”
Sungjoo’s head turned to him from the sofa to give him a once over. He stared at the exposed bruises on his body, but he didn’t comment on them.
“I’m not suicidal,” Wang Yibo said, fixing a cap on his head and grabbing his duffel bag.
“I didn’t say you’re suicidal, Yibo,” Kim Sungjoo said. “I know it’s your way of coping, but this isn’t healthy anymore—”
“Can you just fucking leave me alone?” Wang Yibo said to him. He knew he was being unfair. But he could find a better way to rein himself in and not fall apart. He just had to apologize later. He knew they would understand. “Everything will go on perfectly well even without me for a short while.” A pause. “Just leave me the fuck alone until I get over it.”
“Will you get over him?” his friend said. “If we leave you the fuck alone, will you really get over him? You can’t be like this forever, Yibo.”
Wang Yibo turned to him one last time as he twisted the door knob. “Watch me.”
Kim Sungjoo might be right about one thing.
This was Wang Yibo’s way of coping.
He knew it wasn’t really healthy, and his reckless behaviour was beginning to inconvenience people already, but . . .
He couldn’t stop.
He needed to pull himself together. But he couldn’t fucking stop. Everytime he tried, he just kept falling apart.
What would Xiao Zhan say if he ever learnt what the shit Wang Yibo was doing these past few months?
Wang Yibo laughed bitterly inside. Nothing. He wouldn’t say anything. Wang Yibo was nothing to him anymore. He didn’t even live in the same city anymore. He had left everything behind, including Wang Yibo. He didn’t even return to their house to get his stuff, probably thinking he wouldn’t recognize what was his anyway, so why bother?
Wang Yibo spent the first month after being divorced drinking himself to oblivion. Although, eventually, he realized the ‘oblivion’ part was not really possible to achieve, no matter how many bottles of alcohol he took. He might’ve gotten himself numb; inebriated to the point of puking all of his guts out on the floor of his bathroom, but never did he find himself reaching the oblivion they were all talking about when you drown yourself in whiskey.
So, he stopped. The alcohol, at least.
And luckily, the ARRC season had opened and he remembered registering himself up last April. That was how it all started.
It had been four months now, and his friends were starting to worry.
Yixuan had tried to talk to him at some point, but Wang Yibo just brushed him off, saying he would get over one way or another.
He could tell his friends didn’t believe him. Or perhaps, they did, but were only worried that he might get himself killed even before he got past the whole process of ‘getting over’.
He had told them before, in great conviction, that he would do anything to get Xiao Zhan back again. Memories or not, it shouldn’t matter anymore. Because he believed the feelings were more important than the memories.
But what he didn’t expect was Xiao Zhan’s decision to pull back.
I’m sorry, Xiao Zhan had said. I’m so tired of disappointing you . . .
Wang Yibo closed his eyes, suddenly feeling an exhaustion he hadn’t felt in weeks.
“Shifu, can you pull over?” Wang Yibo said to the taxi driver. He was already on his way home, having booked a DiDi. He was supposed to go straight back home, but his stomach expectedly rumbled, so he thought he could swing by a nearby dim sum place along some hutongs in their area. He had gotten used to eating take outs by now, sure, but that night, he suddenly wanted to eat somewhere familiar. Somewhere which contained a few memories with him and his husband. Ex-husband.
The driver glanced at him through the rearview mirror. “Ah? It’s a few more blocks until we reach your building, sir. Are you sure—?”
“It’s okay. I’ll get off here. Is it illegal to park for a few seconds?”
“I don’t think so, sir. Just make it quick, we’re blocking an intersection!”
The dim sum in the diner tasted just as he remembered. He had eaten until he was full and he felt like it was the first time in a long time again that he managed to feel so well-fed and sober, not only physically, but also spiritually.
He chose to walk home afterwards. It was only half-past eight in the evening, so the streets were not as dark yet. He thought he could also use the short walk home, because these days, in order to keep himself sane, he figured he ought to keep moving. So walk, he did.
At the last block before the sidewalk opened up to the main road, he heard a soft mrrow of a cat. When he looked, he realized it was a familiar one.
The little kitten had a bell collar, so obviously, someone owned it already. Fortunately, Wang Yibo knew very well who the owner was, because this cat was the same cat Xiao Zhan used to pet a lot before. This cat would usually go missing. Sometimes when it wandered around, it would be him and Xiao Zhan who would happen to find it incidentally.
Wang Yibo stared at the little furball for a moment, then he bent down and opened his palm up, calling that cat to come to him.
“Hey, buddy,” he called, and the kitten mrrowed again, nosing his palm. He picked it up gently, smiling at it. “It’s just me tonight,” Wang Yibo said to the cat when it kept meowing. “Let’s get you back to your owner, okay?”
The cat was owned by an old grandma running a dessert shop nearby. When Wang Yibo reached the shop, though, he was surprised to see it barricaded already, and there was a sign saying the business had been closed.
Mrow, the cat meowed again, and Wang Yibo didn’t know what he would do with it.
He asked an old man selling cigarettes on the sidewalk what happened to the dessert shop and the old man had told him that the grandma who was running it had fallen ill so her children decided to sell the business place in order to send her to the hospital to get taken care of.
“Such misfortune,” the old man said. “One day that old lady’s as strong as a horse, giving out fresh tuna to those stray cats and even dogs, and then the next day, she’s sick. That’s life for you, aiya!”
Wang Yibo thanked the old man, and after a few moments, he decided to just take the cat in his arms to his house.
It didn’t make sense that the cat would be left behind when the family left. But maybe because the grandma had a lot of kittens already under her care, the family wasn’t able to track every single one and make sure they were complete.
So he took the little cat home, and opened a canned tuna for her, as well as a carton of milk that was nearing its expiration date.
Wang Yibo watched the cat as it silently ate the food he offered, and the cat would occasionally look up at him, licking his fingers.
“Looks like you were accidentally abandoned, too, buddy.” Wang Yibo murmured, smiling sadly. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You got me.”
7 months after the divorce
Xiao Zhan was standing in line at a bakeshop with a tray of croissants and cheesecake in his hands. The croissants were for him and the cheesecake was for his sister, who had begun her cravings at full force when her first trimester of pregnancy ended and she started her second. Fortunately, it was the same time Xiao Zhan’s one week leave was granted permission, so he was there to spoil his sister whatever the hell she wanted to eat as long as it wasn’t something to avoid for the baby.
Xuan Lu’s prenatal blood test on her twelfth week informed them that the baby was going to be a girl. The sonogram made it most concrete on her fourteenth, and Xiao Zhan was so excited when he had found out.
“Ah, I’ve always wanted a girl,” he had murmured one night, patting his sister’s tummy. “I’m sure your baby will be extremely pretty.” He had been staying at their house in the CBD for a week; Xiao Zhan didn’t want to intrude but his sister insisted and it would be absurd to refuse since he initially wanted to spend time with her.
Xuan Lu had smiled at his words that night. “Of course she will be. I’m her momma! And you’re the uncle!”
They laughed together, ignoring Xuan Lu’s husband who was shaking his head at their exchange.
Xiao Zhan pursed his lips now, trying to suppress his giggle. A little girl holding her mother’s hand who was in front of Xiao Zhan in the cashier line glanced at him, and he offered a small smile.
He really liked seeing little kids these days.
Even at the hospital, the sight of his little patients smiling at him and promising him to be strong gave him a boost of extra energy, with his gruelling schedule in and out of the operating room.
He was excited for his sister’s little one, and he was sure he was going to be that uncle who liked to spoil his baby nieces and give them fat red envelopes every time there was an occasion.
The door of the bakeshop dinged and Xiao Zhan took a curious glance and—
The shop wasn’t very big and he was sure with his height, the newcomer would be able to see him immediately.
And surely, she did.
Xiao Zhan even waved at her to catch her attention. He smiled, letting her know that he did recognize her, but the person’s eyes widened when she saw his figure.
For a while, Xiao Zhan thought he was the one who wasn’t recognized. But when he said faintly, “Yana…?” the person also said: “Xiao Zhan…?”
Xiao Zhan’s eyes lit up. She does remember!
But the moment his eyes lit up, the woman began to panic.
She froze for half-a-second, then she turned around and pulled the entrance door again and fled.
Xiao Zhan blinked, dumbfounded.
Before he could think about it, he was already abandoning his place at the queue, dropping his tray at the counter where it could be easily seen by the attendants, so the bread could be returned to their open racks.
Thankfully, his legs were long, so he was able to catch the woman named Yana outside the bakeshop.
“Yana, wait! It’s me!” Xiao Zhan said, gently grasping her arm to halt her from sprinting away.
“I know it’s you!” The woman gasped. They were in the middle of an empty sidewalk, thankfully, but Xiao Zhan still quickly released his hold against the woman’s grip, afraid it would look like he was assaulting her.
“Yana...why did you run away…? I just wanted to say hi… We haven’t seen each other for ages! I’m not staying in Beijing now, but I’ve chat with your brother a few months ago, and I was planning to meet up him now that I’m back—”
“What?” Yana said incredulously. “You had a chat with whom?!”
Xiao Zhan frowned. “With your brother,” he said. “With Yizhou…”
Yana scoffed, completely facing him and arranging her clothes and handbag which had become a little untidy when she was running away in haste. “I don’t know what to say to you,” she explained. “Did you hit your head or anything? You had an accident and some kind of amnesia?”
“I did, actually,” Xiao Zhan said slowly.
“What?” The woman named Yana was so confused. “What do you mean you did? You really did have an accident? You really forgot that you decided you have nothing to do with my entire family anymore, including my brother?”
“You can’t really forget that easily, can you?” She said, but Xiao Zhan shook his head.
“Why would I do that?” he asked slowly. Xiao Zhan’s heart was beginning to beat more rapidly in his chest.
“Because you found out Yizhou was working with your parents, who were working with some… I dunno, some casino company who can take that small hospital down? That one which was demolished a few years ago. That’s quite the private scandal; it’s the reason you didn’t come back to your parents’ shadow anymore.
“...” Xiao Zhan’s hands started to shake. “Yizhou wouldn’t do that. Mama and Papa, they won’t…”
“They surely did,” Yana said. “My brother sold you out. He’s one of the people who strategized everything, because your parents needed you to come back, and my brother wants a secure position.”
“Professorship. Status. Money.” Yana continued. “Your family has it all, so...”
Xiao Zhan was going to be sick.
“But you found out. Unfortunately.”
He was really going to be sick… He looked at Yana, suddenly very afraid. “But why did I…” he gulped. “You didn’t take part in it… Why did you—”
“I slept with your father.”
Xiao Zhan froze. “Aside from the money and status, your father asked my brother for me.”
He took a step back. “I don’t believe you. Why would he do that— why would you—”
“To be honest, I’ve been seeing your father for a while before that happened.”
“I think he just wanted to make it known, so he took advantage of the situation.”
“No… My mother…”
“She knew,” Yana stated. “She knew all along, but she chose to stay, the martyr she is—”
“This is a joke,” Xiao Zhan laughed a little. He was going insane. His head fucking hurt.
Yana’s face changed. “I’m sorry.” she said. “But I ended it. I want you to know now that it’s me who ended it.”
“No one else seemed to informed you, but everything I said is true—”
Xiao Zhan didn’t want to hear anything else.
He turned away, escaping from her words.
“Xiao Zhan!” the woman called out at him, but she didn’t follow.
The car Xiao Zhan borrowed from his sister was parked in front of a supermarket. Just as he was starting the ignition with his trembling hands, he heard a low rumbling of thunder outside.
Go on, he taunted. Go on and make this day even worse!
He wasn’t in the right condition to drive. He should calm down and not do anything for a while but as the seconds passed that he would stay idle, he felt like screaming. He wanted to crawl out of his own skin. He wanted to dig his eyes out just so he couldn’t shed a tear for the absurdity of it all.
It was already raining heavily when he began to speed up the highway. He didn’t care about any traffic regulations he would be breaking. His lane was perfectly free of any vehicles; he floored on the gas, wanting to scream at the top of his lungs as his velocity turned up.
His phone rang from the dashboard.
He ignored it until the ringing stopped. But after a few seconds it rang again.
“Get the fuck away from me!” he finally screamed. Tears were streaming down his face. He was so frustrated. He felt like his body was so hot he wanted to dive in an ice-cold pool and sink to the bottom and never get up...
His phone kept on ringing...and ringing...and ringing…
“I SAID GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” he yelled. “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!”
He felt like his head was spinning, and his heart was splitting in two. He floored the gas even more, almost getting past 80… 100… 120…
No one else seemed to informed you, but everything I said is true—
Why didn’t no one tell him?! His heart ached so much. He felt so angry at the world he wanted to lash out and scream and laugh…
He was still crying silently even as he finally slowed down.
90… 85… 80… 70…
He floored the brakes gently, pulling over at the sidewalk.
Xiao Zhan took a lungful of breath, trying to calm himself down. His hands were still shaking.
I can’t do this, he said to himself. I can’t do this—
He was too absorbed in his own thoughts that he didn’t realize the glare of harsh lights on his right.
Neither was the screeching of tires against the wet asphalt.
Neither was the ear-splitting noise of steel against steel, a bumper against the door of his passenger seat, smashing it with utmost force that Xiao Zhan didn’t know what was happening until it already happened.
His eyes were half-closed when his head collided somewhere hard.
He gasped, and he only knew he was breathing and he was alive.
Only, his head hurt so much and the noise… the noise in his head wouldn’t stop… The words in his head... the sound...
The images… the colors… the people… the places…
Everything moved behind his lids in a pixelated manner. Every bit of images were hazy and grainy… until finally, the caterwauling sound inside his skull stopped.
But that was when it became worse.
The memories began to come back to him, overlapping and unstoppable.
He thought at some point he was truly going to lose it but the supercut of memories went on and on and on, filling all the gaps and voids of his soul.
I vow.. to fiercely love you in all your forms, now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is a once in a lifetime love—
Xiao Zhan— Xiao Zhan listen to me— I’m so sorry! I’m sorry you have to find out this way—! Please listen to m—!
Jie, tell me everything is a lie… Please, please tell me everything is a lie . . .
I can’t stand your face—
I just want to say I’m sorry…
I know you hate me with every fiber of your being but I still want to say I’m sorry. It was stupid and cruel and heartless of me, what I did, what I said months ago. I didn’t mean any of them . . .
Ah, look! It’s that cat again!
Cat, what cat??
That cat! One of those cats of the grandma who sells bingsu! Look, she's following us! Haha...Hello, little kitten! Have you lost your way home again…? Come, come . . !
Miraculously, Xiao Zhan didn’t lose consciousness.
But he kept his eyes closed even as he was put on a gurney and was rushed in the ER. He kept silent; he raised an arm to block the harsh fluorescence directly above his face, and when the light became too much, he just covered a palm over his eyes and tried to steady his breathing.
Eventually, the voices in his head faded away, but they were all replaced by much louder voices, as if they were speaking directly in front of his face instead of inside his skull.
He didn’t know what was worse.
“This one’s conscious… but he wouldn’t let me uncover his face! Sir! Sir, can you hear me?! This is the Emergency Room of Chaoyang Hospital, you have to put down your arm so we can see your face, and we can treat your wounds, sir, please—”
“Wait, wait, stop— he’s—”
“Is he crying? He’s crying, oh my god, page someone now! SIR! CAN YOU HEAR ME, DOES ANYTHING HURT, PLEASE SIR!”
Xiao Zhan finally lowered his arm and uncovered his face. He kept his eyes close but the image of him, as well as his voice were perfectly seared and latched in his brain.
It’s like you’re tearing me up into pieces, Zhan-ge. Everytime I realize that you still can’t remember who I am, it’s like you’re clawing up my guts . . .
Xiao Zhan cried so hard. He was sobbing so loud the nurses around him were really beginning to panic but they couldn’t do anything. He was fine, that much was obvious, except maybe from that bruise on the left side of his forehead. The only open wound that he had at that moment was the gaping wound in his heart as he remembered everything all at once. How he ruined the only good thing he ever had in his life.
. . . want to find a way out of this, and I want to do it for myself—
Then how about me? . . . How about me, though . . ?
His right fist came up curling against his chest, suddenly feeling a physical pain of that shattered heart that was still beating inside his ribcage.
Why was it still beating perfectly well and healthy inside him? It shouldn’t be right. He didn’t feel alive anymore . . .
Xiao Zhan’s fist weakly pounded his own chest. He was still sobbing out loud.
But he knew no medical miracle could ever help him right then, to stop the burn of his heart that wasn’t supposed to beat anymore.
All that was left was nothing, nothing, nothing . . .
Because he already broke him, heart and soul.
Chapter 8: PART VIII
vow (n.) an oath; a solemn promise
There was a soft meow when Wang Yibo pushed the door open.
It almost made him smile.
At least there’s still someone waiting for me to come back home, he thought.
He loosened his tie as he walked in the loft, feet padding against the flooring. The whole living area was dim, the lights low, and the cityscape behind the floor to ceiling windows casted dark shadows against Wang Yibo’s face.
A deep feeling of nostalgia burned within him.
He suddenly remembered a similar night of nothing but silent shudders and cityscape lights eons ago. The memory had actually happened only several months back. But to him it already felt like years because somehow, that certain memory was detached from all the memories he had this year. Like it was someone else’s instead of his.
That memory was the night of his and Xiao Zhan’s ‘second first date’. The name had been witty enough for them to laugh about back when Wang Yibo had pitched in the concept, but now it only brought a sting in the insides of Wang Yibo’s palm, making the phantom pain as physical as it could ever be.
He took a deep breath.
He had been learning to disassociate every memory he had with Xiao Zhan from all the things that had happened these past few months. Years, even.
This was what that shrink had told him a few months ago: try to draw a line between all these memories with him and the rest of your memories without him.
What do I do with them, then? he had asked. After I draw the line..
You let them all go, the doctor said. You cannot simply forget them like what happened to him. But for you to move forward, you cannot hold onto them anymore. You have to let them all go.
The sessions didn’t work, unfortunately. When Wenhan and Seungyeon had asked him about it, he said he wasn’t attending the appointments anymore simply because he couldn’t do what the doctor was requiring him to do.
Wang Yibo couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t his idea to begin with, anyway. It was his friends’. They meant well, of course but Wang Yibo still thought their efforts were futile, because he knew himself that he wasn’t that suicidal yet. He was sad, and empty, and perhaps even grieving for a life with someone that he couldn’t reclaim anymore but he wouldn’t kill himself just like that. Xiao Zhan wouldn’t forgive him if ever.
“But you can’t just shun people down and be selfish forever, man.” Cho Seungyeon told him one last time before he had given up on talking him down. “You already lost him. Don’t lose yourself, too.”
And that was funny, if Wang Yibo pondered about it. Because how could he not lose himself already when Xiao Zhan was long gone and moved on?
He had given Xiao Zhan his hundred and more percent. It was immeasurable. There was no turning back, even though he wanted to. And Wang Yibo never wanted to.
On the other hand, his friends were right.
He couldn’t simply shun people down. His parents had been worried, too, he knew. But right now, he couldn’t face them; it would truly break his mother’s heart.
And so it went: if he was going to lose both Xiao Zhan and himself in one go, then he couldn’t lose his friends and the people who loved him as well, right after. That was why he chose to do the shrink’s very first advice: draw a line.
Even if it was impossible to let go yet, the least he could do was detach them.
Separate and label them as those memories he was banned from remembering yet he mustn’t forget.
Because, at the end of the day, you couldn’t really get rid of that powerful feeling and devotion for the person you loved the most, could you?
Especially if said person was Xiao Zhan.
He would never forget how Xiao Zhan distinctly smelled and tasted. The sound of his voice, and the glitter in his smile. The constellation of moles imperceptibly scattered on his face and body. His delicate hands that looked so fragile yet actually very strong . . .
Wang Yibo shook his head. No, no. He couldn’t allow himself to feel and reminisce about these things again.
He was about to head for the kitchen to rummage the cupboards for cat food when he noticed a familiar figure nearby.
Even before Wang Yibo looked, he already knew it was Xiao Zhan.
He stared, taking him all in. Agh. He knew it. He shouldn’t have reminisced.
Yet, Wang Yibo kept on looking. The hallucination was already there, so it wouldn’t hurt to look for a little bit more would it?
A sigh escaped him again. Xiao Zhan looked so beautiful. Everywhere around them was dark and bleak and gloomy yet the apparition stood there, ethereal and heavenly. Its back was turned on the glass walls of their loft; he was facing him, and in the blurry edges of Wang Yibo’s mind, he might’ve thought Xiao Zhan’s hands were trembling.
Wang Yibo’s feet slowly walked up to the apparition until they were already face to face. On their side was an overlooking image of a busy and colorful night in Beijing. Wang Yibo could almost hear the noises down below, distracting him from staring back at the familiar face he had conjured out of his longing for his lover, but.
He couldn’t look away.
He wouldn’t look away.
“Why does my hallucination of him look like this,” Wang Yibo murmured to himself, eyeing a small bandage on apparition-Xiao Zhan’s left forehead. “You’re still so beautiful, yet...”
The apparition pursed its lips, as if he was really trying not to cry. His eyes were already red-rimmed and glassy, though, and his nostrils slightly flared, exactly like how the real Xiao Zhan would if he was actually . . .
Wang Yibo frowned, stepping back. He closed his eyes again. “Fucking hell.” He turned around and headed for the kitchen. He raked a hand on his hair, frustrated. “Wang Yibo, you should really get a grip. You’re literally going nuts . .”
To divert himself from the apparition’s presence still lingering, unmoving in his living room, Wang Yibo checked the landline sitting on the kitchen counter, pressing a button that would allow him to listen to the voicemails he had received today.
Beep— “Yibo, darling, this is Mama. Have you seen my text messages this week? You haven’t replied. Your father told me to check on you. How is Xiao Zhan, by the way? Is he getting better . . ?”
The following voicemails after that were various advertisements only. When Wang Yibo had finished preparing the cat food, humming as he sat on his haunches while watching his only housemate eat her fill for that night, the phone beeped again from the kitchen.
“Yibo? Yibo, are you there? I can’t reach your mobile phone, please pick up, god, this is important!” Beep.
Wang Yibo blinked. He hadn’t heard that voice for a long time. It was Xuan Lu’s. She sounded panicked. That couldn’t have been good for her, he thought, since he heard she was already a few months pregna—
Beep— Yibo, I need you to call me right after you receive this. My brother is missing. He has been staying here in Beijing since last week but tonight he hasn’t come home. Someone called me thirty minutes ago saying my car—the one he was using—has been in a car accident. They said he is in Chaoyang hospital but—Yuchen and I are right here at Chaoyang and Xiao Zhan is—he’s not anywhere! I can’t contact him! Please, we need your help, we don’t know what to do . . .”
Slowly, Wang Yibo stood up. His head was still hanging low, yet he could clearly see—and feel—that the supposed-apparition’s figure nearby was still very much there.
He didn’t know when the hallucinations had started. He didn’t pay them any heed because he thought at first, if that was the last option available for him to see Xiao Zhan, then fine. So be it. Then he realized it wasn’t right, and the hallucinations just pained him a lot more afterwards, so he began turning away from them. Usually, in every delusion Wang Yibo would create, Xiao Zhan’s image would go away a few moments after he had acknowledged that it was there, that its appearance was because he missed him again. He had done that already, when he had stared at the apparition’s beautiful face he missed so much.
And yet, this time, it remained. Its figure painted dark shadows against the floor of his living room, as if the hallucination was not a hallucination at all, but something . . . corporeal.
Xiao Zhan bit his lower lip, trying to muffle a whimper. He was crying; his quiet sobs were still heard, and his chest was caving in and out as he desperately tried to breathe and cry and stay silent all at the same time.
Wang Yibo stood in front of him again, not saying a word. Moist was already gathering in his own eyes, but he kept his emotions at bay.
Beep— Yibo. It’s Yuchen. Listen, Lulu is suddenly not feeling well, and we’re afraid it will stress her more and it could be bad for the baby. We’ve already reported Xiao Zhan is missing, and they’re already on the move. But for now, all we can do s’wait. Please message us back, at least. The nurses said he wasn’t severely injured and has been conscious the whole time, but we’re still worried . . .”
Suddenly, Xiao Zhan reached out weakly between them. Wang Yibo didn’t react as he kept on staring at that damn bandage plastered on Xiao Zhan’s left forehead.
“Yibo,” Xiao Zhan said, and Wang Yibo’s eyes widened a fraction. “Yibo,” his voice was feeble, just above a whisper, as his hand grabbed a fistful of Wang Yibo’s shirt. Wang Yibo wondered if this Xiao Zhan could feel his heart slamming against his chest, through the layers of cloth and muscle and skin and bones . .
Xiao Zhan’s hands were positively shaking now as they came up, hesitantly touching Wang Yibo’s face. His fingertips were cold, and so was the entirety of his palms as he gently cradled Wang Yibo’s face. Xiao Zhan stepped closer, lessening their gap. “Yibo, baby, it’s me,” he breathed. “It’s me.”
That snapped Wang Yibo’s daze. He blinked once, twice, his head finally clearing up as he stared at Xiao Zhan in front of him and finally realized that it was real. That it was him. That it wasn’t a fucking hallucination all along. That he was completely being an idiot.
Wang Yibo grabbed him by the waist, pulling him roughly to him. The space between them became nonexistent.
“Zhan-ge,” he breathed. His eyes were wide, almost manic, and he shook his head, confused. “I don’t understand— How—” He couldn’t find the right words, and he didn’t even notice he was already crying; his voice sounded so raw. “Y-You’re real— You’re here— Why— Why are you here—? Xuan Lu said—”
“It’s me,” Xiao Zhan only repeated. He was fully crying now, his sobs almost garbling his words. “I remember everything now— It’s me,” he gasped again. The words were uttered almost madly, the desperation and agony in his eyes burning like coals on fire. “Yibo—please forgive me! I’m so stupid— I’m so sorry— I love you so much—mmphg!”
Wang Yibo wasted no time, dragging him headfirst. They kissed, intensely so. Over and over again. Wang Yibo was burning like an inferno was raging inside him. His hands grasped for purchase, finding Xiao Zhan’s body and clawing it all in, wanting to devour him whole. Their mouths collided, sucking each other’s tongues out, teeth almost clacking. Xiao Zhan was moaning against him, and oh, he tasted like salt and dew. Like regrets and fear. Like love and madness and heartache altogether.
Wang Yibo was sure his own movements were beginning to become animalistic. He was afraid he might really lose it and hurt Xiao Zhan somehow, but he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t find any other way to smother the fire in his core; red-hot and ardent, attempting to swallow his consciousness. He’s here, he kept on repeating in his head. He’s here, he’s back, he’s mine—
He must’ve pulled back for a nanosecond to ask Xiao Zhan something. He couldn’t remember his words anymore, but what registered was Xiao Zhan’s fervent nod and his “I’m fine, I wasn’t hurt, it’s okay,” before they were frantically kissing again.
Xiao Zhan was still crying, his eyes huge and luminous against the darkness around. “I love you,” he was gasping, “oh god, I love you so much, I love you, I love you, I’m so sorry, baby..”
Wang Yibo wanted to respond. He wanted to say he loved him so much too, more than anyone else in the world, and he couldn’t—wouldn’t—stop no matter how much misery this love should bring, but those plain words wouldn’t be enough. They wouldn’t be able to express whatever he wanted to say. So he just began to divest himself and Xiao Zhan of their clothing, undressing them so swiftly and purposefully. Xiao Zhan’s jacket was a little cold and damp; no wonder he was shivering. Their bodies touched again when he had completely unbuttoned his own shirt off and Xiao Zhan was also naked from the waist up.
Then he lifted Xiao Zhan up, his legs automatically wrapping around Wang Yibo’s hips. The hungry kisses didn’t stop as he made their way upstairs, in their old bedroom, and fortunately, Wang Yibo had kept it unlocked, sparing them for more fumbling.
Xiao Zhan’s tears were still streaming down his cheeks as he was being laid down on the bed. He circled his arms around Wang Yibo’s neck, pulling him down with him.
“I don’t deserve you,” Xiao Zhan whispered, eyes shining. “I know I don’t deserve you anymore..” He gulped. “If—if you don’t want anything to do with me after this— If you don’t want to see me anymore then I will understand.” Wang Yibo was breathing hard, pinning Xiao Zhan underneath him. “I will understand it, Yibo. But I need you to know that I’m sorry. And god knows I never stopped loving you, but I’m stupid for letting you go—”
Wang Yibo shushed him with a kiss. A few wisps of his hair had fallen over his face when he pulled away. “You came back,” Wang Yibo murmured, his thumb sweeping on Xiao Zhan’s cheeks, drying them from his tears. “You came back to me, and that’s enough. I forgive you.”
When Wang Yibo finally slid home inside Xiao Zhan, both of them groaned out loud. Xiao Zhan kept on crying, but this time, his tears were from pleasure instead of agony.
Wang Yibo was relentless. His hips kept on pistoning forward, burying his cock in the deepest parts of Xiao Zhan, like he was trying to breach past something he had never gone through before. But he knew there was no barrier between them anymore—physical or psychological it may—because Xiao Zhan’s whole body just kept on accepting him, welcoming him back home.
Xiao Zhan locked a leg around Wang Yibo’s back as he fucked him thoroughly, the other one draped over Wang Yibo’s shoulder. The stretch and position itself was a little painful, since it had been a long while for the both of them, but it wasn’t anything they had never tried before. Xiao Zhan’s cock remained untouched; his hands gripped the sheets beneath him as his mouth slacked open, his back arching in pleasure.
Sweat was already dotted on Wang Yibo’s forehead. His mouth was a little open too as he moved, fucking Xiao Zhan raw. It had been too late to realize that they were out of lube considering Wang Yibo hadn’t needed it in the past few months. But this didn’t stop him, of course. He used his spit to ease Xiao Zhan open, and Wang Yibo’s own precome leaking out of him made it easier for them to move, too. It was only a few moments before Xiao Zhan’s keens went higher. He cried in ecstasy as Wang Yibo ground his hips even further, angling himself to reach the spot that made Xiao Zhan scream.
Wang Yibo watched as Xiao Zhan writhed before him, blabbering words of love and apology, and he thought, He’s beautiful. His mind still couldn’t wrap around whatever’s happening that moment, but all he knew was Xiao Zhan was there, spread before himself like a feast as Wang Yibo’s cock went in and out of him, and he was so fucking beautiful.
It didn’t take much longer for Xiao Zhan to reach his orgasm, his come shooting out and spattering his abdomen, some even reaching his sternum. Wang Yibo followed soon after, filling Xiao Zhan up. Xiao Zhan hummed as Wang Yibo let it all out, some of it spilling from Xiao Zhan’s rim and trickling down their skin, from that point where they were connected.
He had undraped Xiao Zhan’s other leg from his own shoulder, gingerly setting it down on the mattress, and both of them were panting as Wang Yibo hovered above, staring down at Xiao Zhan, who seemed to have gone boneless. His face was glistening with tears and sweat, and Wang Yibo couldn’t help but lean down and capture his lips in a kiss. Wang Yibo was still inside him, soft and spent, but he felt as if his cock had twitched, preparing to chub up once more.
“I missed this,” Xiao Zhan said, his arms circling around Wang Yibo’s torso, locking him in. “I missed you.”
“I love you,” Wang Yibo whispered, and Xiao Zhan smiled. “Sleep,” he said, attempting to dislodge himself to find a more comfortable position, but Xiao Zhan’s legs clamped him, preventing Wang Yibo from pulling out.
“No, stay,” Xiao Zhan pleaded, and Wang Yibo paused. Then he shifted, maneuvering Xiao Zhan’s body so it was him who was above Wang Yibo, his cheek against his collarbones. He did this all while still inside him.
“There,” Wang Yibo said after. “Now, sleep. You’re tired.”
He felt Xiao Zhan shake his head lightly. “I don’t want to fall asleep.”
“I’m scared that when I wake up, I might forget again.”
Wang Yibo tightened his hold on him. He didn’t respond for a few seconds, then, “That won’t happen,” he said. “Just sleep.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t answer anymore, then he mumbled an “I love you,” and he was out.
Xiao Zhan was already cleaned-up when he woke up, but he was still sore all over.
He carefully propped himself up, taking the room he was in, and he let out a small smile as he realized that he was still in their own bed, in his real home.
Thank god I didn’t forget . . he sighed
Wang Yibo’s side of the bed was empty, so he got up, putting some of his own clothes on as he headed outside the room.
Xiao Zhan found him in the kitchen, feeding a small kitten with cat food. He smiled, his arms crossing against his chest as he leaned on the open doorway of the kitchen, watching Wang Yibo feed a small kitten with cat food and milk. It took a few seconds before Xiao Zhan’s presence was noticed. Wang Yibo stood up, blinking at him. Some parts of his hair stood up in different directions.
“So you’ve been keeping pets now since I’m gone?” Xiao Zhan said, eyeing the cat fondly. “She’s a little familiar..”
Wang Yibo only shrugged, seemingly amused. “She kept me sane, sort of,” he said. His smile was a little crooked and sad, but before Xiao Zhan could say anything, Wang Yibo took his hand and kissed his palm before leading him to the living room.
Their inevitable talk happened after that. They sat on their couch, facing each other, with their fingers interlaced. Xiao Zhan didn’t cry but he almost did. Wang Yibo really did know him well because before Xiao Zhan could even say another apology or some propositions that ran along the lines of ‘If you don’t want me anymore…’ he already beat him to it and said: “Stop with the sorrys. Don’t fucking apologize to me anymore because I already told you last night that I forgive you and there’s absolutely no chance of me not wanting you back just because of what happened.”
“I’m just happy you’re here again, okay? Don’t punish yourself over it, I was hurt, but I understand, and it’s not your fault.”
Xiao Zhan thought hard. “But Yibo, I didn’t even—” he worried his lip, not knowing what to say. “I remember your face so clearly that night,” he whispered. “I’m so sor—”
Wang Yibo stopped his words with a kiss. It was only a short full-mouthed one, but it unexpectedly turned heated when Xiao Zhan moved to sit on his lap. He was still the one who pulled back first, though, burying his head on Wang Yibo’s neck.
“God, I missed you,” Xiao Zhan croaked. “I’m glad I’m back,”
Wang Yibo hummed, stroking his back up and down. Then, “ How much did you remember anyway?” A pause. “And how did you get yourself in a car accident again! What the actual fuck—!” He sounded furious as he pulled Xiao Zhan away for a bit just so he could scan his whole face. The bandage was still there, having survived the night. Wang Yibo held his chin as he examined him furiously.
Xiao Zhan sighed, and he began to tell him everything.
Wang Yibo didn’t interrupt him, just staring up at Xiao Zhan as he remained seated on his lap, occasionally fiddling with the hem of his shirt. Wang Yibo softly grazed his knuckles at his cheekbones every now and then, as if making sure he was still real and there. At one point, Xiao Zhan tried to get off Wang Yibo’s lap but Wang Yibo stopped him.
“ . . . didn’t know how it happened. Maybe I was concussed. Luckily that’s it, but I was still in a daze. I don’t even think I discharged myself properly from the ER . .” Xiao Zhan said, then he widened his eyes. “Oh god, my sister!”
But before he could move, Wang Yibo said, “She already knew. I called her last night.”
“Last night?” he frowned. “When did you even get the chance?”
Wang Yibo grinned. “While you were asleep.”
They didn’t talk about whatever was going to happen next, or whatever they needed to do. They didn’t even talk about Xiao Zhan’s parents, or the job he would have to leave back at his hometown. They didn’t talk about Yizhou, and his attempt at an apology Xiao Zhan didn’t know if he could ever accept. They didn’t talk about the divorce and every single ugly thing that had turned their lives upside down that year.
Xiao Zhan knew they would have to, of course. But that day, they didn’t talk about anything at all.
They stayed inside their loft, not caring about everything in their outside world.
Then at lunch, Wang Yibo dropped a question so casual and so spontaneous that it made Xiao Zhan’s heart stop.
“Zhan-ge,” Wang Yibo said. “Let’s renew our vows, shall we?”
“Let’s get married again.”
Xiao Zhan’s answering smile was slow and blinding. He didn’t know how he would ever make it up to Wang Yibo one day, with all the mistakes he had committed and all the heartaches he had caused. He wasn’t sure if he would ever forgive himself. Perhaps someday he could.
But that time, he only nodded. “Alright,” he said.