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dismal hallways | 寂寞的走廊

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The atmosphere in the car was thick and stilted. Neither You Huo nor Qin Jiu spoke, the dead silence between them almost suffocating. Blood seeped through the careless bandaging around Qin Jiu’s arm, dripping rhythmically onto the passenger seat. Outside, a sliver of moon cut through the dark sky, casting lengthy shadows behind the lonely streetlamps.

You Huo focused unwaveringly on the road ahead, his vaguely lidded eyes cool and clear. One hand grasped the steering wheel, his thin fingers curling loosely around the leather, while the other tapped a senseless beat on his cargo slacks. To an outsider, he would appear for all the world as calm, composed, and even a little bit bored. Even Qin Jiu couldn’t tell what thoughts were running through his head— was he angry that Qin Jiu had found his punishment record? Did he regret whatever relationship they had had in the past? Was his stance so fully on the side in the System that he supported wiping examinees’ memories?

Unspoken words swirled between them, the air taut like a stretched bowstring. Aware of the omnipresent gaze of the System, though, Qin Jiu endured the tension, waiting with feigned apathy until You Huo’s apartment finally came into view through the windshield.

You Huo parked smoothly into a spot in front of his complex. He turned off the ignition and glanced at Qin Jiu’s arm, brows vaguely furrowed. When he lifted his gaze upwards, his line of sight clashed head-on with Qin Jiu’s searching eyes.

You Huo tilted his head, indicating that the two head out first.

“You’ll spend the rest of your punishment term in confinement,” You Huo said tonelessly, leading Qin Jiu directly downstairs to his basement.

“There’s a bathroom and a bed, so don’t bother me unless—” You Huo’s sentence was suddenly cut off. Because as soon as the confinement room had closed behind them, Qin Jiu had turned and pushed You Huo roughly against the door, swallowing the rest of his words in a kiss.

The kiss started off as violent, a mix of clashing teeth. Qin Jiu licked greedily into You Huo’s mouth, tracing each crevasse with the tip of his tongue, tasting the warmth he had craved from afar. He cupped You Huo’s face with one hand and boxed You Huo in with another, feeling the sleek, firm lines of muscle pressed taut against his body.

When they finally separated, they were both panting. A red flush had begun to creep across You Huo’s neck, sensual and enticing against his pale skin. Qin Jiu bent down, kissing along his collar bone and up towards his jaw, nipping slightly at his Adam’s apple. You Huo tipped the back of his head against the door with a thump.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Qin Jiu lifted his head to look at You Huo. You Huo peered at him from beneath his thinly lidded eyes, his breaths coming in short bursts. A misty haze had fogged over his irises, desire breaking through the cold lines of his expression.

“I told you not to come back.” You Huo didn’t answer the question. And though his reply was flat and accusatory, Qin Jiu felt a hint of sorrow in his words, like he was dipping into an old pain. A sudden ache twisted in Qin Jiu’s heart.

Qin Jiu rubbed his thumb against You Huo’s bottom lip, and You Huo’s mouth readily parted. His dark lashes trembled.

“How could I bear to leave my Head Invigilator?” Qin Jiu kissed him again, biting into You Huo’s soft mouth, a reassurance contained in each lick of his tongue.

I’m here. I’m okay.

You Huo kissed back almost just as desperately, his fingers gripping the back of Qin Jiu’s neck. He didn’t want Qin Jiu to be part of the System; he didn’t want anyone else to bear the burden of his responsibility.

But for now, he let himself be selfish.

Qin Jiu had planned to ask more questions. But You Huo was already unbuttoning his shirt.

 

*

 

You Huo straightened out his collar, sitting stiff and upright on the small confinement room bed. He looked cool and pristine, like a piece of ice as clear and sharp as broken glass. Qin Jiu lay behind him, gazing upwards. He had a sudden urge to bite at his skin, to break his ruler-straight lines.

Instead, he opted to loop an arm lazily around You Huo’s waist.

“Going already?” He dragged out the end of his tone, purposefully wheedling.

“The System will get suspicious.”

“Fuck the System.”

Somewhat to Qin Jiu’s surprise, You Huo only rolled his eyes and continued to dress.

“So you are against the System?” Qin Jiu said with some amount of shock. And then, with a wiggle of his eyebrows: “Do you want to switch sides?”

“I’m curious— have you ever heard of the concept of low-key?”

“No, will this Head Investigator please enlighten me?”

“Scram to read a dictionary.”

Qin Jiu huffed a laugh into You Huo’s back, pressing kisses along his spine through the fabric of his shirt. You Huo shivered.

“I can see why we got together in the past.”

You Huo turned around to look at Qin Jiu, lightly brushing his fingers in the short brown hair along Qin Jiu’s temple. Something complicated flitted across his face.

“Long story short, it’s important that I appear like I’m with the System. We weren’t cautious enough before, which is why we got caught and you got kicked out.”

You Huo sighed, and Qin Jiu sat up to wrap his arms around him from behind, enveloping him in a tight embrace. His detest for the System had now become something personal. He wanted to remember; he wanted to accompany You Huo with his memories.

“I’ll take you to catch up with Invigilator Z at some point. But for now… no one can know that anything’s changed.”

 

To the outside world, they would appear as they did before, always with daggers pointed and swords drawn, one completely opposite of the other. Their only moments would consist of stolen glances across long hallways, each surrounded by a group of chittering employees. Their eyes would meet as they walked past each other, close enough that, for a split second, their hands would brush.

And then, they would forget each other.

 

But one day, they would meet each other again, and share a kiss as the dismal hallways of their old workplace exploded in flames behind them.