Three more years and three more years and three more years like storm clouds hovering, and Yan is its cool calm eye. He is very still. He stands on the edge of the rooftop, as close to the drop as he dares, and he stares unseeing at the city below him, the sea beyond. These rendezvous with Wong always leave him feeling raw. This gig makes you crazy, and he is well-versed in this now. It sharpens his bones and makes a knife out of him, hones him down to instinct. He is more likely to take a risk, to step off ledges.
"No, no no," Wong had said, barely five minutes ago. A knowing smile and those stupid sunglasses. "You're more likely to take risks, so that's how you end up with this gig."
Wong has probably already reached the ground floor by now, but Yan gives himself more time. Never arrive together, never leave together. He lights a cigarette, difficult against the wind, but he is stubborn. He checks his watch.
There is movement at the corner of his eye.
He whirls around, hand already on his gun, and to his surprise and frustration, there is someone else on the roof. Some white guy. How did he get up here without Yan hearing him? Had he been sent? By whom? For him? Did he encounter Wong on the way up?
"Hey!" Yan says, and the cigarette falls out of his mouth and bounces off the ledge.
The guy looks up, and his eyes are very wide, very blue. His trenchcoat is too big on him, far from flattering, but there is an imbalanced air about him that makes Yan tense. This guy may not look like much, but there are many guys who aren't much that can do a lot of damage with personal trauma alone.
He asks Yan something in English. When all he gets is silence and a frown, the guy repeats himself in another language, and another, and another, and Yan relaxes. Lost tourists he can deal with. Just give them a little push towards Tsim Sha Tsui and let them fend for themselves, easy as you please. He doesn't need this shit today.
"Sorry, sorry," Yan says, waving his hand in a negating fashion, then waggles his fingers by his ear and shakes his head in the universal gesture of 'I don't understand'. When the guy starts speaking Cantonese with barely a trace of an accent, Yan is thrown enough that he misses the words completely. "What?"
"A bar," he says. "Whiskey. Beer. Alcohol. There is a bar here, right? Where am I?"
Yan would guess that Castiel has already had a few bottles, not that it stops him or even slows him down. Yan is only on his first beer, and Castiel has already imbibed a frightening number of shots.
"You know," Yan says, "you speak pretty good Cantonese for a foreigner."
"And you are tolerable for a human," Castiel concedes. "I know some humans. Sometimes they're not."
Okay. Is it time to regret tagging along with this guy yet? It's just that when Yan told Castiel of a bar he knew around the corner, Castiel replied, "Let's go there immediately," and Yan – for lack of a better thing to do, for want of a distraction from his current pit of despair – let himself be swept along. To be fair, he did try to say, "I have somewhere to be," but all Castiel was concerned with was, "Do they serve whiskey?" And Yan said to him, "They'll serve you horse piss and call it whiskey."
Then the guy, this poor bastard, looked at Yan with fervent sincerity and said, "Will horse piss get me drunk?"
Yan couldn't let this guy wander around by himself. He'd get mugged and shot and thrown in the sea.
So here they are, and Yan is busy being equal parts intrigued, amused, and vaguely horrified.
"How much have you had to drink?" Yan asks when Castiel knocks back three shots in quick succession.
"Not enough," Castiel replies grimly. "I drank—I uh. I drank my friend's whiskey. I took it when he wasn't looking. Then I... flew off," he makes a fluttering motion with his hand, "to look for more, but I misjudged my trajectory. Ended up back in the nineteen-fifties. New York, nineteen-fifties. Crazy. Sinful."
"Ran into these guys, Allen and Neal. They had whiskey."
"Wait, did you say nineteen-fifties?"
"And all I had to do was listen to their poetry." He leans over and says in a conspiratorial tone, "I didn't like it." Castiel's cellphone rings for the third time in forty-five minutes, and he silences it again. He looks at Yan and nods decisively. "It's time to move to a different bar."
Yan returns Castiel's look with a cool-eyed, deciphering frown. He doubts this guy needs more alcohol, but Yan is not his keeper. If Castiel wants to get hammered before the sun goes down and pay for Yan's drinks on top of it, then who is Yan to take that privilege from him? Yan will make sure this guy doesn't drown in his own vomit, and that will be gratitude enough on his end. (Would he have made the same decision, Yan wonders, if he hadn't spent the past many years immersed in the underworld? It has become more difficult to know the difference between what is illegal and what is wrong these days. Perhaps in another universe Yan might've found Castiel a taxi and sent him back to his hotel after the first bar, maybe even paid for the cab fare, but Yan's time with the Triads has taught him to take advantage of every opportunity he comes across. Keep a look out for the broken ones; maybe you can use them for spare parts.)
"Well?" Castiel says. "A different bar?"
Yan prolongs the pause on principle, then says, "Fine. Let's pay first."
"Do you think I'm a kind person?" Yan asked Dr. Lee once.
She just arched one pretty eyebrow, and replied, "Do you mean 'kind', or do you mean 'good'?"
"Same thing, Doc."
"No, it's not."
They are at their third bar, and by now Yan has learned that this is how Castiel deals with the tab:
"Barkeep!" Castiel roars.
The barkeep'd waddle over with a shot already prepared in hand, then Castiel reaches over the counter and jabs the guy's forehead with two fingers.
At first Yan thought Castiel was just being a drunken asshole. This impression was not helped when Castiel explained that he was just adjusting their memories, with that same horse-piss sincere expression on his face.
"What, like a pressure points thing?" Yan sneered.
Castiel frowned and said, "No. Like an adjusting their memory... thing."
"You're incredibly full of shit."
He shrugged. "Runs in the family."
Here they are, bar number three. They're sitting at a booth this time, and Yan is hammered enough that he is having trouble understanding Castiel's life story. Somehow he suspects drunkenness is only partially at fault. Maybe it's not 'I'm drunk, so I can't comprehend this shit', but rather, 'I'm not as drunk as I think I am, and it's just this story is really fucking weird'.
"Wait, wait," Yan says, pressing the cool beer to his temple. "What about your dad? What did he do again?"
"I never thought," Castiel goes on, showing no sign of having heard him, "that I'd be here this long. This long. But maybe I should've known."
"Here where? In Hong Kong?"
"Here," Castiel repeats, and Yan doesn't know if it's repetition or confirmation. "It was... it was a decision that didn't feel like a decision, not really. Dean can be convincing when he wants to be."
Yan leans back in his seat and sips his drink. It should be his last one; his vision is swimming. The fact is not lost on him that Castiel has not asked Yan anything about himself, choosing instead to perform The Castiel Show as long-form extemporaneous monologue. He reminds Yan of Keung at his most volatile – confessional, ponderous, a liability to himself and to those around him. Perhaps it's just as well; Yan has nothing he wants to disclose.
"I was trying to do the right thing," Castiel says. "Maybe that's the most we can ask of anyone. Maybe I've never been strong enough."
"Three more years and three more years and three more years," Yan agrees, raising his glass.
Instead of answering, Yan drinks.
Bar number five. This is Yan's last beer, promise.
Daylight's fading. The bars they go to increase in skeeviness, and this one is dimly lit and stinks of cigarette smoke. It is crowded. It is noisy. Yan and Castiel sit squished against each other at one end of the bar, and Yan thinks about how stupendously unfair it is that Castiel does not seem that drunk at all.
"I gave up everything," Castiel says, rough-voiced.
"Yeah, well," Yan mutters. "Join the club."
"What if," he says. "What if we're nothing more than the sins we're forced to commit?"
Yan laughs, and it is a shrill sound, defensive in its loudness. He wants to say 'fuck you' but it wouldn't make sense, so instead he says, "That's the kicker," and leans closer. Castiel raises his head, curious at the sudden proximity. "No one forces you to do anything."
Castiel says, "I just miss the way things used to be."
Yan has a dozen responses to that, ranging from how Castiel needs to stop drinking, how he needs to grow a pair and face the world with his head on straight, how he needs to stop acting like he's the only person who has sacrificed anything, but instead – and much to his horror – Yan finds himself saying, "Me too."
Yan wakes up in his own bed at three in the morning.
He takes inventory of himself. He has his wallet. His gun is poking uncomfortably into his back. His mouth tastes like ass and his head feels like it's been kicked in. What else? His keys? His phone? They're on the bedside table and, curiously, so is a cup of tea, gone cold.
Yan sits up and presses his fists against his eyes as if that could make the pain go away. No such luck, but he persists until the displaced pain threatens to exacerbate the nausea, and then he looks up at his ceiling and blinks once, twice. Then he picks up the tea.
He sorts through his memories for milemarkers. A memory of tan trenchcoat and angry blue eyes. What was his name? Castiel? He grapples for the last thing he remembers, and it is a gruff voice in his ear saying, "roll around in the mud too long and see what happens, my brother used to say", followed by a laugh, no mirth in it, and a splash of whiskey in his mouth. Yan downs the tea and it only helps a little bit.
He checks his cellphone and there are texts and missed calls from Keung and Del Piero. His headache insists that those can wait. Yan checks his contacts to see if maybe he has Castiel's number, and knows even before he reaches C that it will not be there.
More bits and pieces dredge themselves up from the black hole of the evening: one arm slung over Castiel's shoulders in the grimy hallway outside his flat, swaying as he clung to the guy like a flag on a flagpole. Yan remembers with distressing clarity leaning against a wall in a dark alley, Castiel's silhouette in his peripheral vision, and himself saying, "You can't tell anyone." He has no idea what it is he told Castiel not to tell.
How Castiel wrangled Yan back to his flat is a mystery. His next memory is struggling with his keys to unlock the door, cursing the locksmith and his mother and his mother's mother and all the gods in the world, and the next memory he has is of stumbling across his bedroom, accidentally kicking over the wastebasket. He would've fallen had it not been Castiel's hand on his arm, steadying him, the touch cool and smooth.
"Where are you going?" Yan remembers asking, but he doesn't remember Castiel's answer.
He shuffles into the kitchen, spots his cigarettes on the counter, and sticks one in his mouth. He turns on the burner and uses the flames to light it up, then he puts the kettle on for tea. On a whim, Yan sends a text to Dr. Lee. "I think I met a ghost today," he types, and doesn't get a reply until he is almost done with his third cigarette.
Her text says, "Stop looking at mirrors."
Behind him, the kettle begins to whistle.