“He is still alive, Lan Gongzi. Please remember that.”
Wang Yibo does not respond, barely acknowledging Wen Qing’s look of concern or the brush of her hand on his arm.
He has not moved from his place for… he doesn’t know how long.
He knows distantly that it has been enough time that his muscles have begun to cramp, stiffness setting in and holding him rigid. He can’t feel his hands and feet, a dull emptiness at the ends of his limbs like he has been cut short, something in him incomplete.
“His golden core is still fine, it is only his physical body that’s been affected. It seems like he is simply… sleeping.”
“That’s …” Wang Yibo speaks for the first time in hours.
His voice is gravelly, rough to his own ears. It’s a testament to the way he screamed for help when he arrived at the Wen’s door, Xiao Zhan’s unconscious body lifeless in his arms.
Wang Yibo’s hands tighten into fists over his robes, and he swallows twice.
“That is good news.” He finishes at last, the sentiment sounding false even to his own ears.
Yibo closes his eyes.
He does not want to see their sympathetic looks.
He does not want to see how pale Xiao Zhan is.
He does not want to look, and see that nothing has changed, and that Xiao Zhan is still gone somewhere Yibo can’t follow.
The Wen’s stay for hours, gathered around Xiao Zhan’s bed. At first Yibo hadn’t let them touch his Xiao Zhan, snarling like something possessed when Wen Ning tried to take the elders' pulse.
It had taken nine of Wen Qing’s needles to subdue him, screaming and thrashing and threatening the worst violence if they had dared lay a single finger on Xiao Zhan.
He stopped struggling. Eventually.
Now, Yibo sat alone on his bed, watching, just watching, and hoping distantly that this was all some terrible nightmare, and he would wake up and see Xiao Zhan’s smiling face and everything would be alright again.
“Lan Er Gongzi?” Wen Ning sounds as if he’s speaking to a caged animal, like if he makes one wrong move Yibo will bite his head off. Yibo might. “We have to go now. Jiejie knows of a plant that may help Young master Wei, but it is far away, and she needs my help to retrieve it. Unless you would rather go yourself—“
“I’m not leaving him.”
With a quiet shuffling of robes Wen Ning moves away, approaching his sister where she stands by Xiao Zhan’s bedside. They duck their heads together, conversing quietly, and Wen Qing pats her brother's shoulder once in sympathy, her expression full of sorrow.
“You have done your best, A-Ning. That’s all you can do.”
They gather their things silently, pausing only to bid farewell to Wang Yibo. Yibo listens to their murmurs and the gentle sounds of footfall as they grow steadily fainter, until finally they disappear.
It is only when he is sure he is alone that Yibo allows himself to cry.
For twelve days and twelve nights Xiao Zhan slept.
Yibo has taken to talking to him, until his voice runs hoarse and he cannot do anything more than rasp out stories he’s told before yet will tell again, Xiao Zhan’s cold hands clasped between his own.
“The doctors said I couldn’t dance anymore, ge, but I asked my mama if I could still go to Korea and she said only if I do well in my school exams. So I did. I’m pretty sure I came first in my school. My grandparents were so proud of me, ge, I swear. Nainai kept telling everyone about how smart her grandson was… all the aunties began to recognise me because of what she said. It was so crazy, ge.” Yibo finishes his sentence, slightly out of breath. His mouth is dry from where he hasn’t drunk any water in the past hour, and he smacks his lips together dryly for a moment, searching for more words to finish his story.
“Anyways, I made it. I went to Korea and I debuted, but I’m sure you knew that, ge. My dad called me just before our first group showcase and told me the entire neighbourhood was squashed into our living room, watching me on the TV, and I remember just thinking “don’t fall over. You can’t fall over, Wang Jie” Oh yeah, I don’t know if I told you that, ge, but my nickname is Wang Jie.”
Yibo rubs his thumb over the back of Xiao Zhan’s hand, feeling the way the delicate bones jut out. He and the Wen’s have tried their best to keep Xiao Zhan fed during This, but it is hard, and Xiao Zhan has still lost some weight.
He is still beautiful though. He is always beautiful in Yibo’s eyes.
Yibo takes care to ensure Xiao Zhan is comfortable, wiping his face with a cloth and tucking him under the blankets he had Wen Ning buy from the market. He brushes back the stray hairs from Xiao Zhan’s face, leaning over the elders body to lay a gentle kiss on his forehead.
His skin is still warm.
Yibo keeps himself sane with that.
“Lan Er Gongzi!”
Wen Ning’s normally timid voice was fraught with tension, and he nearly slammed the door open with the force of his entry.
Wang Yibo snapped his head around to look at him, taking in the heaving chest and flushed cheeks of the youngest Wen.
“What happened?” He asked urgently, standing up from Xiao Zhan’s bedside and sending the stool he’d been sitting on crashing to the floor. Wen Ning panted for breath, clutching the bag in his hand to his chest protectively.
“It’s jie, s-she’s asked to see you. S-something about the curse on Young mistress Wu,” Wen Ning’s gaze flickered behind Yibo, “a-and young master W-Wei. She said she thinks she knows who it is.”
Yibo sucked in a sharp breath, his grip tightening on Xiao Zhan’s hand, so small in his own. He’d neglected their investigation for the most part, too concerned for Xiao Zhan to care much about anything else. The Wens had continued though, diligently searching the village for any shred of evidence as to who might be behind all of this. Wang Yibo had helped where he could, although he’d been unwilling to leave Xiao Zhan for more than half an hour at a time for the first few days.
Whatever medicine Wen Qing had been giving was working though. Xiao Zhan’s cheeks now held more colour, and several times Wang Yibo swore he’d seen Xiao Zhan’s pinky twitch in the middle of Wang Yibo’s storytelling, a sign of life Wang Yibo clung to like a man starved for a decade.
“He has to want to come back, Lan Er Gongzi.” Wen Qing had told him one evening, finished with her daily checks on Xiao Zhan’s condition. “I can give him the best medicines, known or unknown. I have given him them. Now it’s up to him.”
“He’ll come back.”
“How do you know?”
Wen Qing watched as Wang Yibo paused, his lips forming a small line. There was a weariness that seemed too old for his age, a stress which carried itself on the lines of his youthful features and gave them a feeling of a deep rooted sadness, that had something in Wen Qing turning over in echoing sorrow.
“I don’t.” Wang Yibo answered truthfully, his tongue darting out momentarily to wetten his dry and chapped lips. “I just have hope. That he’ll come back to me.”
Wen Qing does not reply.
Wang Yibo thinks back on that moment as he hurries through the undergrowth, heading towards the Wen's home. There is a drumming in his ears that grows louder with each step further he goes from Xiao Zhan, until all he can hear is the sound of his own heartbeat.
Wen Qing opens the door with a brisk, “you’re late,” that Wang Yibo ignores, glancing behind himself once before he steps into the house.
“Your brother said you had something to tell me.”
“Yes,” Wang Yibo followed Wen Qing as she walked further into the house, the by-now familiar scent of medicinal herbs greeting him like a slap in the sinuses.
“My brother and I have been searching around the area where young mistress Wu lost her pin, and we found an old farmer there. He said he had seen her often, but she wasn’t ever alone.”
There was a pregnant pause as Wen Qing bent down to retrieve something from the floor, placing it in her satchel.
“Young mistress Wu had a secret lover.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Because I didn’t know it before, silly!” Wen Qings thwacked Wang Yibo upside the head with a rolled up piece of paper, making him jerk in surprise. “God, do men ever think before they speak? The things I have to deal with…” she continued muttering under her breath as she bustled around the room, grabbing things which Yibo couldn’t make sense of but figured must be important anyway.
Yibo couldn’t help but rub his head with a scowl, the area where he’d been struck stinging even five minutes later. He had a new found respect for Wen Ning if he had to endure this regularly — the eldest Wen had a deceptively wicked smack hidden up her sleeves.
“Stop pouting. You look like a pig.”
“I —“ Wang Yibo choked in outrage. How dare she? Just because she could neutralise a grown man with a single needle, she thought she could insult Wang Yibo and get away it? No way was Wang Yibo going to let this slide.
“Excuse me, what did you — ah!”
Wen Qing appeared from behind him like a ghost, nonchalantly waving a hand in which glittered four needles, right under Wang Yibo’s nose.
“What were you going to say, hm?” She smiled innocently, and Wang Yibo shivered, an instant chill going down his spine. He gulped, stuttering out a shaky “n-nothing,” that had Wen Qing’s eyes narrowing slightly, an amused smirk tugging at the corner of her lips.
“That’s what I thought.”
Wang Yibo felt like his palms were sweating as Wen Qing walked away, and he wiped them discreetly on his robes, letting out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.
Terrifying. Utterly terrifying. Without Xiao Zhan here to diffuse her anger, Wang Yibo felt like he was one side-eye away from a needle in the backside.
Overly cautious now, Wang Yibo made sure to give Wen Qing a wide berth as she finished up her rounds around the kitchen, even offering to carry her bag for her at one point.
“I’m sure I can manage, Lan Er Gongzi.” She commented dryly, easily hoisting a massive hamper of… something… under her arm, along with the bag already slung around her shoulders. Wang Yibo followed her at a distance, respectfully cowed into silence.
They didn’t make it as far as the door.
With his head bowed, Wang Yibo couldn’t see the moment when Wen Qing all of a sudden stopped and so nearly bumped into the stern woman. Catching himself at the last minute, Wang Yibo narrowly managed to sidestep Wen Qing. Smoothening himself out, he turned his head to see what she had been staring at.
It couldn’t be.
Xiao Zhan, alive and well and awake, stepped in through the open doorway, aided by an anxiously fretting Wen Ning. He gave the young man a grateful smile before looking at Yibo once again, and smiling softly.
Yibo didn’t know what came over him, he only knew that he couldn’t stay still anymore. He’d die if he had to stay still whilst Xiao Zhan was there in front of him, within reach.
He was moving before he even knew it, slow steps that turned into quick steps that turned into runs, until he crossed the distance that separated him and a still smiling Xiao Zhan.
Yibo didn’t think as he reached a hand out to cup the side of Xiao Zhan’s face. His pinky rested on the side of Xiao Zhan’s neck, and he felt Xiao Zhan’s heart rate jump as Yibo wound an arm around his waist, pulling Xiao Zhan into his body, and god, Xiao Zhan fit so perfectly in his arms, like he was meant to be there. Xiao Zhan’s skin was so warm, so unbelievably warm, Yibo couldn’t let go, he didn't want to let go, ever again.
Xiao Zhan giggled softly as Yibo stared at him in a daze.
“Have I got something on my face?” He asked, eyes crinkling into crescent moons of joy as he waited for Yibo’s answer.
And what did Yibo do?
He leant forward and kissed him.