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Falls the Shadow

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The thing is that nothing lasts.

It’s why Xue Yang never really bothers to think about the future. The future begins when now stops. But the present—the present spools out in limitless continuation, on and on, pushing the edge of an unreachable horizon—

Right up until the point where it doesn’t.

They’re in bed when it happens, Xue Yang with his wrists bound, Xiao Xingchen driving deep between his thighs like he’s trying to carve out a home there. Xue Yang will never learn what tipped Xiao Xingchen off, but he sees it, sees it and knows it for what it is: the moment that recognition remakes Xiao Xingchen's face. Feels it in the motion of his hips, the way they stutter and stall, like a heart at the instant it ceases to beat.

Xiao Xingchen's lips part around the shape of Xue Yang's name, like he can't hold it inside himself, like he's overflowing with him, like Xue Yang has filled him as thoroughly as he even now fills Xue Yang, and Xue Yang knows he should do something, say something to take the situation back but he can't.

A part of him has been waiting a very long time for this.

Xiao Xingchen's hand moves over Xue Yang's bound wrists; his littlest finger brushes butterfly light over the place Xue Yang's littlest finger should be. Then he yanks his hand back as if he's been burned. Even in the dark Xue Yang can see the ruddy stains growing against Xiao Xingchen's bandages, like Xue Yang is pushing that out of him too.

Xiao Xingchen's lips part further, shaping no words at all now, just a gaping, soundless hollow of grief and Xue Yang knows he's going to die here, like this, tonight, beneath Xiao Xingchen's hands with Xiao Xingchen's cock still inside him. Knows it even before Xiao Xingchen lowers his hand to Xue Yang's throat.

And Xue Yang knows he should speak, because if he has to die, it's a victory, isn't it, to go like this, at the hands of his greatest enemy, at the moment he's finally made them the same—

He says nothing. His throat is dry. Barren soil. He swallows, convulsively, Adam's apple working against the place where Xiao Xingchen spans his throat with the web of his finger.

Xiao Xingchen shudders. Tilts back Xue Yang's chin. Lowers his head. Presses a kiss to the hollow of Xue Yang's throat

"You're so lovely like this," Xiao Xingchen whispers. "I can't even begin to tell you. Finding you at all... I felt so lucky. After everything, I could scarcely believe... And then, on top of that, that you would be like this. So good for me. So sweet. I—"

He presses his face to Xue Yang's collarbone and Xue Yang can tell from texture alone it's not sweat he's smearing there. It smells like meat and old iron and Xue Yang spins briefly out of his head at the churning, visceral intimacy of it.

(Because what is this moment if not the breaking of the final barrier between them? What is blood if not a secret the body has failed to keep?)

That's when Xiao Xingchen begins to move, again, but slow, so maddeningly, unbearably slow and there's nowhere in the world left to hide. Even if Xue Yang could break free. Even if he still wanted to. There's no pain to draw a line between them, just damp and prickling heat and the slow drag of Xiao Xingchen taking him apart from inside.

And all the while he's talking, still talking, about how good Xue Yang feels, how much Xiao Xingchen wants him, has wanted him, about what a blessing it feels like to have him. And Xue Yang knows he must've been wrong, that there's no way Xiao Xingchen could have realised who he is, because there's no way Xiao Xingchen could know and be saying these things, be touching him with with this kind of aching, deliberate tenderness— 

(Xue Yang can't remember anyone ever touching him like this before in his life.)

So he must've been wrong except that he can't quite remember what about. He remembers it was important but it doesn't feel important, lost beneath the relentless tidal rise of sensation, Xiao Xingchen's voice in his ear telling him how sweet he is, how precious, how good. He knows he was wrong and he knows it doesn't matter and then— Then he doesn't know anything that can be described by words at all.

When he wakes in the morning, even before he opens his eyes he can tell Xiao Xingchen isn't there—the bed is empty, too cold. But Xue Yang feels for him anyway, the way he imagines Xiao Xingchen might if their positions were reversed. It's fun, pretending. It's like something they share.

He feels the familiar paper twist of a sweet, but this morning, as he goes to grab it, he brushes against something else. There's a rustle. He's gently bombarded with tiny... somethings. Xue Yang opens his eyes.

Xiao Xingchen didn't just leave him two candies. He left him the whole bag. Didn't even bother to close it properly—a mere nudge was enough to send them spilling everywhere. Something seizes in the pit of Xue Yang's stomach, a cold and animal dread.

It's early. So early. Earlier than Xue Yang ever wakes up. The sky has begun to lighten but the sun has yet to peep above the rooftop on the other side of the courtyard. Everything is still and soft and grey and faintly luminescent, and in the centre of it all, Xiao Xingchen, his mourning whites muted and gentled in the shadowed pre-dawn light. Xiao Xingchen, standing perfectly still, with a naked sword in his hand.

Xue Yang thinks he shouts. He thinks he starts to move, he doesn't know, he doesn't know but it's too late. A second too late, a year, an entire wasted lifetime, too late, too late, too late—

Xiao Xingchen tilts back his chin. Lifts his arm. Draws it back, and, as the first rays of sunlight break free from behind the rooftop, puts the blade to his throat and floods the courtyard with colour.