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Follow Me (Into The Evergreen)

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Yixing embodied Christmas. No matter the time of year, he would always smell of something deep and decisively woodsy. It took Yifan months to define it but once it hit him, it haunted his senses everyday since. Scots Pine. That was it. Yixing always left a trail of that distinctly wintery scent wherever he went and Yifan always felt weak when it would pass him by, the cool scent contrasted Yixing’s warmth. Yet, it worked. It fit. The younger male was agrestral in Yifan’s life, each passing day Yixing was an unwavering presence and Yifan felt as though things couldn’t get any better when he watched Yixing smile. While Yifan was certain he would shake his crush after the first couple of months, like all of his previous ones. However, Yixing, just like his scent and the evergreens themselves, lingered.

It was because of this seasonal link that Yifan gave to Yixing that he decided to wait until December to finally ask him on a date. The older male was constantly being asked by their boss if he would be the one who would return back to Vancouver, as he already knew the area and the Canadian office was crying out for multilingual people, all through the year in hopes that he would be there by January. It was a more senior position which was available to him but Yifan was consistently rejecting it. After living in Guangzhou through his childhood then emigrating to Canada, he always felt like China and Vancouver were home, however, his move to Seoul had purpose.

Anybody who knew Yifan well enough had to know he had gone through a divorce a months prior to moving to Korea two years before. He and his ex-wife knew each other from school and had thought they were in love. At least, right up to the moment that Yifan realised that he was only really sexually attracted to men. He still found the woman who he had lawfully wed beautiful. However, there was never any druther towards her and her femininity. Not only did he realise that he had made a catastrophic mistake when it came to how well suited they were for each other but, he broke her heart in the process. It wasn’t a happy ending to their divorce or anything spectacularly bad, Yifan felt more as though he had lost his best friend because he hadn’t found himself yet. It was because of that, he moved to the Seoul department of the distribution company he worked for. It was from there that he met Yixing.

Beautiful, talented Yixing.

It had been a culture shock for Yifan to be plunged straight from the laidback western culture of Canada, where it wasn’t unlikely for people to call in late because there was a Moose in their driveway, right into that of Seoul. His body had to adjust to the change in air, the fact that there were smoggy days that had him considering going to a doctor to prescribe himself an inhaler. Whereas, he was used to being able to escape to the mountains within an hour from the Canadian coastal city. It was this ability to elude life’s demands in the wilderness for a while that he would miss. He spent a lot of times walking through forests and two foot high snow to escape arguments with his then wife, disapproving mother and his judging friends. Yifan didn’t want to be labelled as the man who didn’t know his own sexuality at such an age nor have to suffer the glances of scrutiny from those around him. He sought freedom, he always chased it and he found it amongst the ferns and and firs.

The fact that Yixing reminded him of his deliverance was the first thing that had drawn him to the man. It just so happened that the company had paired them together, with their birthplaces being China, and hoped that Yifan would find some comfort with a fellow countryman. They both lived in apartments owned by the Seoul division, meaning that they were never too far from each other either.

Close enough that they got into the routine of visiting the coffee shop at the corner of the street on their run to work, they’d wait until the other was done with their daily errands before heading home together and often made stops for dinner when they were too tired to cook for themselves. The only time where they weren’t in verbal contact was when they were working, Yifan having a managerial role in the international relations department while Yixing was placed four floors below in the designer’s lounge. Their workspaces were completely different, Yifan’s office was wrapped in colours of deep brown and mint green. But Yixing’s, that was a dazzling array of colours. There were drawings all over the walls from when the designers would be struck with an idea when they had no paper at hand. It was a magical open plan floor that the taller Chinese man always felt out of place in. He didn’t work in creativity, his job was to liaise with his linguistic skills, not produce pieces of themed art everyday.

However, that didn’t mean that they weren’t in contact, Yixing would always send Yifan short e-mails of how he did things like put two tablespoons of granules in his coffee because his brain didn’t compute that it wasn’t a teaspoon.

It was safe to say that he fell for the designer with minimal effort on either side. He found himself refreshing his screen to see if he’d received anything new from Yixing, despite the fact that their e-mailing system loaded new arrivals instantly. He couldn’t concentrate when Yixing got into his ‘zone’, knowing fully that the other would not stop to eat until his work was completed. He hated it when he had to work late and Yixing would fall asleep with his head on Yifan’s deskmates section, especially when he saw Yixing moving to massage his neck the morning after.

He hadn’t ever felt such clarity in his attraction to somebody before.

Not his ex-wife, not the man he’d developed a crush on that signified the demise of his marriage, not anybody in his life before.

It had been two years and he was certain that he was in love.

Maybe not all the way, but he was getting there. He was surrounded by the forests of feeling that Yixing created inside of him. The pine needles barbing his heart, the roots settling deep into his brain and the swaying of the branches filtered into his bloodstream. It was strangely enthralling to be in love with Yixing.

However, like every other big, or decidedly small, thing in Yifan’s life, there was a catch. A net that had him trapped in that forest, like a bear with it’s leg in a crocodile toothed snare. The more he writhed against it, the deeper it bit into him and the more pain it caused his weakened heart.

Yixing loved him, he really did but just not in the way that Yifan had craved for. He was taking a backseat in his own love story, it would only hurt to pursue his best friend but it was something he couldn’t help. Everything about the impulsively beguiling Zhang Yixing had Yifan sat in a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean. There was no saving him; no life jacket, no life boat and no burning flares to shoot up into the sky.

Yifan was caught. Yifan was falling. Yixing wouldn't let him go.

 

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“So, Fan-ge, are you going to the christmas party this year?” Yixing asked as he swirled his brown sugar into his soya latte. “You didn’t go last year and I think you would have really liked it.”

 “I don’t know,” Yifan hummed, making Yixing’s eyes widen in shock. “They’re not really my thing.”

Yixing’s lips pursed cutely, making Yifan want to place his own mouth around them, “I think you’re lying, there is nobody who doesn’t love the yearly celebration of all our hard work.”

“You mean the night where people get so drunk that they do questionable things, then get judged for it when you all go back to work the monday after? Yeah, that really isn’t me,” Yifan’s voice began confidently but he was murmuring into his cappuccino by the time he finished. Maybe he didn’t like the festive season because that’s when he had shifted from married to divorced, the papers having gone through in the December. There was a flash of something in Yixing’s eyes that was gone too fast for him to even try deciphering it.

It was replaced by that teasing grin, the one that opened Yixing’s mouth from left then around to the right and pushed his dimple into his fleshy cheeks. It made Yifan want to kiss and lick at the little dent, just to show his appreciation of it. He settled with a soft poke at it with his little finger.

“Yifan, you do questionable things without there being any alcohol involved,” Yixing sassed, his drink coming up to his lips and Yifan watched as he opened them to pour the liquid in. He didn’t even retort, he was too engrossed in staring at the man in front of him. “You’re already an embarrassment to yourself.”

It was then that Yifan finally rolled his eyes, showing his disapproval for the comments. He still smiled in spite of that, showing his delight in the younger man’s happiness.

He never minded being the butt of Yixing’s jokes if it meant Yixing was exultant.

Yifan’s phone vibrated on the table, signalling that it was time to finish their coffee run and head out to work. He placed his own empty mug down on the table, observing Yixing place his plastic lid on the paper cup. “It’s October, I’ve got weeks to think about it.”

Yixing picked up the pastry Yifan had bought him, the brown paper turning a darker shade as the two croissants sat in there for more time. They didn’t speak as they exited, only waving to Minseok over their shoulder as the bell above the door jingled. The air was cooler but Yifan could feel Yixing’s warmth closer to his own than probably needed, as all Yifan could smell was that piny essence. It overpowered the tang of coffee wafting from Yixing’s togo cup. Yifan could only think of how the other man would fit so well in Canada. How his scent could blow through the leaves and still strike Yifan down with its potency.

It wasn’t as cold as Canada, not by a longshot, but there were still puffs of white coming from everybody’s mouths. Yixing’s nose was turning a cute pink shade, the tip of it much redder as it spread down onto his cheeks within minutes. All Yifan could think of was pressing his warm hands, which were nestled in his thermally lined pockets, onto Yixing’s face. He could imaging the cooler skin beneath his fingertips, how Yixing’s face may even warm with a slight blush and they would share some intense eye contact that could make the moment so intimate.

Yifan couldn’t do it, he did not have the right to act so lovingly towards the other man.

He knew he wasn’t the only one in Yixing’s life that the younger man was so close to. Yixing was like a bright light in a dark room, all attention was constantly on him and Yifan never minded that. He was never one for the spotlight, hence his predilection for keeping himself to himself. Either way, he was always happy to be some of the fuel that set Yixing burning that little bit radiantly.

Though, he always felt like he was different to the rest.

Yixing’s eyes would always end back on him, as if Yifan was the one he wanted to see last to have that memory settled in his brain more freshly. He could always proudly say that he was the one that saw Yixing the most outside of work. It may have been a friendship of convenience for Yixing but it meant the world to Yifan.

Yixing had been the one to tear him from his divorce induced heartbreak with his glowing eyes, messy auburn hair and constant ebullient personality. He was a walking cyclone of energy and he poured so much of that into finding Yifan’s happiness again. Whether it was listening to Yifan talk solemnly on park benches at two in the morning or helping him pick out the colours to paint his bedroom. There was something about the way Yixing would look at him, his eyes appearing like molten umber around hollow black pupils, that would make Yifan feel as though he was set apart.

“What are you thinking so intensely about?” Yixing’s light voice laughed through the air and Yifan looked at him in the grey overcast light. The smaller male really was beautiful, in any scenario. There was something silvery about the sky, and the rest of the world around them, when Yifan looked down at him. It was like somebody was shining a light right into Yifan’s eyes, one that he felt blind without.

“Nothing, I just think I might like the winter a little more now,” Yifan’s words made Yixing pull into a confused frown but he was smiling again when he saw Yifan’s lips form into a curve of its own.

“Your smile with all that gum is so cute,” though he sounded as if he was mocking, there was a small streak of genuine ardor running down from his brows to his lips. “You’ve got really perfect teeth too.”

“Say that to fourteen year old me, pre-braces,” Yifan hummed, Yixing was drinking from his cup again and a small dribble ran down from the edge of his mouth.

Yifan fought the urge to clear the coffee away from where it was travelling down.

And, he failed.

His thumb came out and ran across the small patch of skin, it made Yixing’s lips fall open and he could see the younger man’s breath coming out in considerably shorter puffs. As if Yixing’s breath would stutter if Yifan touched his skin. It was one of those things, the ones that made him feel as though his heart was a black hole, sucking each inch of his insides. Or maybe, it was the apocalyptic blaze in his veins that was melting him all over.

Whichever way he thought about how they were both reacting, he couldn’t help the fact he often convinced himself that there was something more between them. That maybe Yixing reciprocated his feelings.

He was drawn from staring at Yixing when somebody cleared their throat behind them. He could only muster out a quiet, “All gone.”

“Thank you, that could have been embarrassing if I’d have gone to that client meeting with my face in such a way. But, I didn’t even get to put makeup on this morning, so it could have taken some of the attention from these pimples on my jaw,” Yixing was looking down, his cold induced pink cheeks looking a little brighter than before. You’re too beautiful as you are, Yifan wanted to say. As usual, it never passed his lips. “Oh well, it’s too late now.”

That last sentence made Yifan laugh in his mind, yeah, it is too late. I’m in love with you already.

 

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The pop of an e-mail coming into his computer made Yifan smile slightly, it was 12:34PM and around the time of the afternoon that Yixing always e-mailed to complain about his hunger. There had been a lull in creative work since his last project, apparently, and Yixing had taken to playing Tetris online.

From: Zhang Yixing

 fanfan-ge, feed me~ (๑•́₋•̩̥̀๑) hurry up i want lunch

 

Yifan wished that his chest didn’t feel as though it was going to explode whenever Yixing called him ‘fanfan’. He never said it aloud, only ever naming him as ‘fan’ or just ‘Yifan’ when he spoke. But, he couldn’t stop it. His heart and his mind had diverged from one another. He had little to no control over himself when it came to Yixing.

 

From: Wu Yifan

 Give me five minutes then meet at the usual place, lunch is on me today, Xing-ah.

 

Yifan worked faster with the motivation of seeing Yixing, seeing as the younger was always that little bit more adorable when he hadn’t eaten yet. He was whiny and pouty, demanding to be fed by Yifan, who couldn’t say no to the man’s natural charms.

 He logged out once he’d finished up the document, his screen changing to the password screen before he left for the elevator. The ride down to Yixing’s floor was about a minute long and Yifan always took the time to sort his hair out in the mirror in the lift compartment. He tugged at the strands to make the gelled parts resurrect themselves and then realised the concealer he had put on that morning had begun to separate as his face grew that little bit more oily due to the heating of the office. He used his ring finger to rub over the delicate skin under his eyes, as well as that around his nose and the dip of his chin. He couldn’t face Yixing without looking at least half decent, notably since the younger always looked like a glowing angel.

Yixing was there as the doors open, being able to witness Yifan turning back from the mirror, “Checking yourself out again, Fan-ge?” Yifan’s face flamed red and Yixing laughed, his whole face lighting up when he realised he was correct. “You’ll become vain if you carry on like that, Yifan.”

“I’m no Narcissus,” Yifan quipped back while he left out the, ‘but I wish you were my Echo.’ that dared to enter his thought space

“Sure you’re not,” Yixing smirked, starting to lead the way to the staff cafeteria. It wasn’t impossible to find, the smell of food was evident through the whole floor and Yifan could understand why Yixing always complained about being hungry. What was being produced by the kitchens always smelt, and tasted, like heaven after a long morning of working. “I think they’re doing pizza again.”

“The kind with the chicken or plain?” Yifan asked, his stomach slowly growing more hungry as they drew nearer to the public eating area.

“I think it is the chicken one, I could smell a bit of spice earlier,” Yixing sang, his pace matching Yifan’s perfectly until their steps were in sync. His shoulder brushed Yifan’s arm, which meant that Yixing’s arm was rubbing on his hand.

The idea to hold Yixing’s hand was driving him insane with want, wanted to feel those warm fingers wrapped around his larger, cooler ones. It made his skin prickle and itch as if Yixing would be the only thing to soothe his romantic desire. His brain was working overdrive to halt him from acting irrationally but Yixing made it worse by clutching at the excess shirt on Yifan’s torso as they wove through the crowded tables to their normal spot. The taller male could feel the tug of it against his chest, dragging the fabric down and it made his buttons strain a little more. It was as though Yixing was worried about being separated from him even for a few seconds as they crossed the room. There was nothing Yifan wanted more than to be able to wrap his arm around Yixing’s shoulders to guide him to the table for two they always sat at.

“I’ll have the pizza, if that’s what they’re doing today. If not, surprise me,” Yixing released Yifan as he sat down in the chair opposite the wall. The designer knew of Yifan’s dislike towards sitting with his back to large crowds of people. “You always make good choices.”

Yifan used his long legs to stride away from Yixing over to the queue, he knew that the faster he moved then the faster he could spend the next hour with the designer. A look back over his shoulder told him that Yixing had drawn a little crowd of other workers he was friends with, it didn’t make Yifan jealous perse. Though, he kind of wished that Yixing would want to look at him while they weren’t together. Like he would when Yixing would take his turn to buy their lunch.

He managed to wrangle two servings of pizza, two bottles of water and some cookies for them before the masses consumed all the good food. Which almost always happened on pizza days. It was probably more because of that fact that he didn’t want to watch Yixing look longingly at the food on other people’s table because Yifan wasn’t fast enough in striking. He hated when Yixing was even remotely upset by something he could have stopped, whether that was over something as little as lunch. Or the time Yixing was taken off a project because he was late to an important meeting, all due to the fact that Yifan had caught the flu. It was something he was apologising for a year later. He knew Yixing was allocentric to the core and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Even so, it didn’t settle Yifan’s guilt over the situation.

The tall male could see people disperse from Yixing once he began to approach them and Yifan felt a little disheartened. Yixing’s friends never stayed while he was around. It was though he repelled those Yixing attracted, driving Yifan further into his somewhat self-made seclusion. Part of the reason why he never spent time with anybody besides Yixing, other than the fact that he was in love with the smaller male, was because nobody stuck around long enough to get to know him. So, few people understood why Yixing was as close as he was to the quiet, tall, scary looking man but neither of them discussed the subject between them.

Yifan didn’t think that his self confidence could possibly handle that much negativity, not with his life being as it was. Yifan had lost his high school best friend, the people he had surrounded himself with during his marriage had deserted him and the once close relationship he had with his mother had fractured. Yixing was, in reality, the only person there for Yifan in his life at that moment. And, the idea that people were saying less favourable things in Yixing’s ear about him had him worried that maybe, just maybe, Yixing would one day listen.

Those thoughts had Yifan frowning as he placed the tray he’d compiled onto the table between them.

“Why the long face, Fan-ge?” Yixing chirped joyfully, his eyes filled with anticipation for his food and Yifan found himself staring at how the one sat down had his lips pursed in a cute pout. He licked his own lips. Knowing that if he didn’t do so, he would embarrass himself by kissing Yixing in front of the most part of their colleagues. Given the fact that Yixing would probably push him away once he realised what Yifan was doing.

“Just thinking,” he smiled limply, passing Yixing over his plate of thin crust pizza nevertheless.

“About?” Yixing pressed on, like he always did, before taking a huge bite of his food.

“Everything and anything,” Yifan tried to evade the question, which made Yixing slow down his chewing pace to watch him as he swallowed at a laboured pace.

“Yifan,” he whispered quietly, “I know December is a hard month for you and I am here for you to talk to.”

Yifan was certain that if he didn’t already get shy around Yixing then he would have been a blushing mess over how delicate he sounded. As if whispering the words would not only stop those around them from hearing, not that many of them could understand Chinese, but also help to cushion his pain. “I know, don’t worry about that. I’m just being blindsided by everything.”

Yixing gloomed, his whole expression falling as if Yifan had something that knocked him for six, “Like what?”

Like how beautiful you are when we walk home under the streetlights. How I can barely control myself because I’m so in love with you that it hurts. How I want to give you everything but I have nothing left?

“Oh, nothing, just work stuff,” he lied, the words trilled from his mouth with a false sense of boredom. “Lot’s of stuff to do with it almost being Christmas and all.”

If there was something Yifan had noted about Yixing then it would have to be his emotional awareness of others, it was almost as though he was an empath. He knew Yifan’s every expression and tone intonation. Howbeit, Yixing didn’t pick up on the lie.

“Oh okay,” he took a second and equally large bite of his pizza. Chewing more like a hamster before he used his hand to cover his full mouth to speak, “I guess people want to get their work done before they finish for the holidays.”

“Yeah, that must be it.” Yifan agreed, tearing his pizza up into chunks to place into his mouth whole, not wanting to appear uncouth to Yixing. “Anyway, what have you been doing this morning?”

“Well, at first I ha―”

“Oh, Yifan, here you are,” The man who had rudely interrupted Yixing was Yifan’s supervisor.

Yifan counted to three with his eyes closed before turning to look up at the smiling man, “Hello sir.”

“I was wanting to check to see if you were still against going back to Canada for that promotion?”

Yifan saw Yixing’s face drop completely, he hadn’t told Yixing about the offer, not wanting to risk his friend trying to convince him to return home. To go and fix things in his past life, namely the situation with his mother. He felt awful for keeping it from Yixing, still, he wanted to be happy.

He could only renew himself if he wasn’t in Vancouver being surrounded by the places that only held tarnished memories. Maybe he was like a snake shedding itself but he needed that, that elusion from all the things that haunted him. “No, I think Korea is the best place for me right now.”

“Well, as I’ve said before, give me the word if you change your mind and we can sort something out,” he gave both sitting men a short wave paired with an equally fleeting smile. “Work hard, guys.”

Yifan resumed eating his pizza, hoping to avoid the questions and weighted gaze Yixing was throwing at him through the silence. He wanted to hide himself away. Yixing was suddenly eating his own lunch once again, his movements were jerky and passive aggressive. As if that was Yifan’s punishment.

He simply hoped that Yixing wouldn’t give him the silent treatment when Yifan could bring himself to talk about it.

Plus, it wasn’t as if Yixing relied on him like Yifan did on him. Yixing had a whole coterie devoted just to his friendship. There were other people for him to fill the space with. Yixing wasn’t bound to Yifan in loneliness, like the elder had been with him in the beginning.

Yixing didn’t need Yifan. And, while that was okay in the meantime, Yifan wasn’t sure what he would do when Yixing finally noticed that.

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The news of the want for Yifan to return to Vancouver placed the elder’s life on its head far quicker than it should have; he was suddenly eating lunch alone at his desk, there was no Yixing patiently waiting outside of their coffee shop in the mornings and there was no late night takeout shared between two. It frightened Yifan with just how alone he was in the world, how he had one friend and he managed to fuck that up because he wasn’t honest about one thing. He didn’t blame Yixing for not contacting him, he had laid in bed at night and considered how he would feel if the roles were reversed. He’d be devastated and it would knock yet another nail into his heart’s coffin.

It pained Yifan to even glance at the number four on the elevator options, walk past the cafeteria where Yixing seemed in deep conversation with Henry - one of his designer friends - or look at the little doodles Yixing left on the notepads that littered Yifan’s apartment floor. There were visions of the small dimpled man in every crevice and chasm of Yifan’s life; he could hear his laugh when he walked down the street, he could hear how Yixing would make noises of approval when he chewed on food he liked and he could almost sense Yixing looking at him. It was all his imagination, after all Yixing had moved onto a new friend to invite closer into his bubble. Yixing was luring in the next person with his charming playfulness and that feeling that he gave which made a person think that they were the centre of his world. Yixing was going to make other people feel the way that Yifan did and it made the elder completely replaceable. As if he was an object on a production line; something to be moulded and remade continuously until the maker grew tired of that design.

This reversion back to life before Yixing and after his divorce rocked within his mind at all times of the day. There was no escaping the fact that he wanted somebody (Yixing) to love, adore and care for him when he was at his lowest point. He wanted to be in a position where he could make a promise to say that he would never hide anything away ever again, if only to get Yixing to glance his way with a small smile. He didn’t want much, he just wanted Yixing.

The awkwardness that sprouted from the discovery of Yifan’s job offer endured for almost a week after, up until Yixing bumped into Yifan during a shopping trip. It was then that the younger seemed to be genuinely happy to have caught him in the store, his basket overflowing with food and spices as if he was going to be creating some sort of culinary feast.

“Fan-ge,” Yixing sighed out happily, his eyes crinkling in that way they did when he was at his happiest. “I was going to drop by your place to see if you wanted to come over for dinner.”

It wasn’t that Yifan was surprised by the action. It was just that he was pretty fucking shocked, to be honest. He didn’t want to seem rude, and yet, the almost harsh, “Why?” slipped out before he could stop himself.

Nevertheless, nothing changed with Yixing, he was still looking up animatedly, “I wanted to apologise for being so childish since the other day. I mean, it isn’t like you’re taking the job, so why would you need to tell me if nothing was going to change?”

“Right,” Yifan nodded, accepting Yixing’s formulated excuse readily.

“Do you want to have dinner with me? I’ve got pork, I can cook your favourite,” Yixing smiled in a way that made Yifan think of the horizon. Something Yifan could chase forever but never quite reach out to touch.

How could he possibly say no, “Of course, I’d love to.”

“Can you help me carry these back then?”

Only replying in a nod, Yifan followed Yixing to the check out, even going as far to fit the bill for the groceries. Yixing had thrown him a mortified look before proceeding to chastise him with a blunt, “This is for you, Wu Yifan, so don’t you even dare.”

The tall man couldn’t help his mouth drawing open into a beaming smile at the sight of Yixing’s cutely angry face while he held a rolled up magazine in a threatening stance, “Okay, okay. I’ll go down here and pack up.”

Yifan had his arms raised in surrender, a dramatic display that made the cashier give them a fond look as the two men played around in front of each other. Yifan didn’t really mind that people were watching them, Yixing was all he could focus on. Yixing and that utterly enrapturing dimple.

He was falling so much harder than normal and he hoped there was no ground for him to plummet into. He didn’t ever want to shake the feeling, no matter if it made him miserable in the future. He loved being in love with Yixing. The man was resplendence in its purest form, how could being in love with that ever hurt enough to want to stop?

Yifan watched Yixing while he placed all the groceries into the carrier bags that had been brandished in his direction. (Yixing demanded to use the reusable ones) He tried his best to keep all the food groups together, which proved ever difficult when his eyes caught on Yixing’s umber irises. It wasn’t electrifying like it normally was. Rather, it made Yifan think of snow hitting his bare skin. It stood his hair on end, rose his skin into gooseflesh and he felt the slightest of shivers ripple through his ribcage.

Once everything was paid for, they made their way out into the street. Yixing stuck himself to Yifan’s side, as the taller man’s height made him like moses walking through the cramped sea of people who were all out running their daily errands. Yixing, that day, was wearing a thick winter coat with the cutest earmuffs atop his head. Their fluffy, floppy rabbit ears making him look like the embodiment of adorableness. They bobbed slightly with each step he took, moving in undulating motions as the wind blew through them and Yifan found himself laughing. All the tension that had built slowly in his stomach disappeared with the sound. He was never sure how a fully grown man could appear so innocent, how his whole life was like light shining into a dark cave. He illuminated everything Yifan could see until the colours of the world were bold, the highlights glowed gold and the dark points were tonal shades of asphalt, rather than black. Yixing was colour while Yifan only saw in monochrome before meeting him.

“Yifan,” Yixing murmured, his voice an octave lower than normal and from the corner of his eye he could see a flattened seriousness pitched on Yixing’s features, “I really am sorry for overreacting. I’m not normally like that but I didn’t want you to even consider leaving, you’re such a huge part of my day-to-day routine that even the past couple of days when I would turn to tell you something and you weren’t there, I felt lost. It’s like I follow you.”

Yifan nodded, not being able to face the sincerity in Yixing’s eyes, just in case he interpreted it as anything other than friendliness. He couldn’t possibly allow himself to get his hopes up, it would have been all the more hurtful when Yixing would look at him with a sadly uncomfortable expression with a ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same’ on his lips.

“I’m glad you can forgive me, my mealtimes have lacked a little secondhand embarrassment recently,” Yixing was smiling, his eyes dancing with amusement as Yifan tutted his disapproval.

“I do that all to entertain you,” Yifan grumbles as a smile picked up on the side of his face that Yixing couldn’t see. “None of it is genuine.”

“Is this your way of saying that you gave yourself a black eye with that bottle all for my benefit?” The younger male lacked any signs of seriousness but his teasing still struck Yifan enough to make him flare up in a blush. “Because that trip over the coffee table looked very real, as did the fact that you began to cry because you hurt yourself.”

“I hit myself in the face with a bottle, of course my eyes would well up,” he groaned back, the tone of his voice making people look over as though he’d just blasphemed to the highest god. “I’d like to see you pull off something like that and not get watery eyes.”

“Are you wishing pain upon me, Fan-ge?”

“You know, I can always switch to rejecting your apology,” Yifan jibed back, while he was certain that the falter on Yixing’s face didn’t really happen. He couldn’t fool himself like that, it did happen and it look as though it had thoroughly hurt Yixing. Though, with the rate in which it was replaced with a smile, Yifan would never be sure.

“No take backs, Yifan,” Yixing laughed, holding up the little finger on his left hand and the taller male nodded.

Yifan wrapped his longer pinky around Yixing’s, “Yeah, no take backs.”

 

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It was while Yixing was hanging off the arm of the sofa upside down that Yifan told him that he would go to the staff christmas party, making the younger sit up so fast that his reddening face had no time to recover in time. “But, I thought you were Mr. Bah-Humbug?”

“I am but you won’t stop whining in my e-mail inbox that I have no other choice but to give into your whims,” Yifan kept himself nonchalant, well, as much as he could be. When really, all he wanted was to tell Yixing that he was finally going to confess.

The alcohol and classic setting of embarrassing yourself in front of peers would fit for when he was eventually rejected. He could even claim ignorance the next morning by saying he had drunk a little too much, got a little too excited and blurred the lines between friendship. However, that wouldn’t work with how Yifan wanted to confess. He knew he would back out when it came to finally speaking, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth as if it had been tarred in place and his teeth binding to keep his melting brain from seeping out. The only alternative he could think of was to write it down, maybe that would mean that he could feel better by letting it out, even if he did grow too scared to pass it over. That if he wrote it down, where he could read it back, that it would mean for complete realisation and acceptance of his feelings.

Yifan felt crazy with how much he thought of Yixing but it was that everyday kind of madness where a voice in the back of your head tells you that everything they do makes you fall even further. He didn’t mind that he felt as though his sanity slipped whenever he met eyes with the smaller male, it made complete sense to him. Everything was perfectly in order for there to be ordinary love which felt extraordinary to the one feeling it.

“I can’t hate winter forever, right?”

Yixing was beaming as the blood returned back to the rest of his body, “Do you have an ugly sweater to wear?”

“Do I need one?” Yifan cringed, he had been put through more than enough of the torture that christmas knitwear could bring, it was something his mother had been set on whenever the festive season came about. “It isn’t it all a little bit too cliché?”

“Yifan, are you being serious? Christmas parties are supposed to be a cliché fest!” Yixing was suddenly on his feet, advancing towards Yifan with purpose before holding his hand out to him. “We are going shopping and there is nothing you can do to stop this, it has to happen or I will not be seen with you at that party.”

The taller male doubted that Yixing would have any time for him there anyway, given how popular he was but it gave him the motivation he needed. Anything would be better than Yixing actively avoiding him. “Fine.”

It was five minutes later that they were out on the street, both covered head to toe to ward off Jack Frost from their extremities. Yixing, once again, was sporting those earmuffs that had Yifan enamoured and the elder was wearing plain black woollen hat. If anything, that showed the sheer difference between them and Yifan despaired at that notion. Yixing deserved somebody as playful as him, not an awkwardly clumsy person such as Yifan. However, his thoughts changed when the smaller man, who had his arm laced in Yifan’s right one, suddenly looked inspired. He pulled two white things out of his pocket, making the both of them stop and said objects were being pressed on Yifan’s head with concentration.

“There,” Yixing sighed happily, “Now people know that we’re together today.”

I want to be together with you everyday, “What are they?”

“Little bunnies, I thought they were cute enough for you,” Yixing was fast hooking their elbows back together, dragging Yifan off in the direction of the closest shopping district. “They match mine.”

“How thoughtful of you,” Yifan hummed with tinge of genuine sentiment under his amusement but Yixing just laughed the most diaphanous sound the elder had ever heard.

“I know.”

“So, where are we off to?” Yifan asked, wanting to keep his mind from fantasising about making Yixing laugh like that first thing in the morning, with his eyes glossed with sleep and body still draped in sleep. He was failing. But, it gave him the sweetest kind of misery when his eyes dropped to Yixing’s lips and imagined how it would feel to press against them as the sun rose in the sky.

“There’s this cute little boutique that does some really classic ones, so maybe we should head there first and do some recon on what they have?”

The tables turned and suddenly Yifan was laughing heartily, effortlessly in the street with Yixing, “Recon? Are we in the military? Is this some covert operation?”

“Seasonal shopping is no joke, Fan-ge,” Yixing deadpanned, his eyes furrowing with faux seriousness and lips coming to pout at not being taken seriously.

And, oh no, Yifan was sinking deeper in the quicksand that was Yixing. “Of course not,” he played along and suddenly the cute man was smiling, his dimple driving the fatal blow to the tiniest bit of Yifan’s heart that resisted how he felt. “We must complete our quest today.”

They quietened down when they got a disapproving tut from a passerby, Yixing rolled his eyes right around while Yifan recoiled into himself. As much as he wanted to be open with his sexuality more, Korea may not have been the place to be in to do so. The younger generations were a little more accepting with how homoeroticised idols and actors were but the older generation, the ones that hired and fired people, were a little more conservative. Which, Yifan didn’t mind, he was a firm believer in allowing people to believe in whatever they wanted if they weren’t up for opening their minds up to fresher possibilities. Though, he would have liked to not be judged in the street, especially when he wasn’t even dating the man that clung to him whenever they left their apartments together.

No matter how many times he wished upon shooting stars that he would get his own earthbound one.

Their entry into the shop cut off their white breaths into nothing, their cheeks pink with the rush of warm air and Yifan tugged off his winter mittens. Yixing did the same with his finger puppet gloves. Yifan never realised but on each finger was a different animal; a dog, a deer, a penguin then on the forefinger was a unicorn and the middle one was a dragon. It struck something within him so much that he plucked them from Yixing’s hands and he tried to put them on his own hands. The younger watched with amusement as Yifan’s far too large fingers wriggled their way in and began to play around right in front of Yixing’s nose.

The younger placed a soft hand on Yifan’s left hand, his thin fingers twining to fingers together to make a promise sign. It went quiet while they both smiled cheesily at each other, love bristled up Yifan’s neck.

A quiet clearing of a throat withdrew their gazes from each other and three shop attendants were stood as an audience, all had looks of awe and adoration directed at the two men. Yixing stepped back and started scrolling through the racks.

“Hey, should we wear matching ones?” He suddenly said, stopping still and Yifan rose an eyebrow. “It’s just that you’d look really adorable in this and I kind of want it too?”

This’ was a white sweater that had red detailing in the shape of an evergreen forest. It was one of the more decent ones the shop sold and Yifan found himself slowly approving. Much to his own chagrin, after his vow to never wear such an evil thing since leaving Canada but it was Yixing. Yixing with those umber eyes that looked like the bark that would line the tree trunks. Yixing with his Scots Pine scent. Yixing with the same essence as the forests Yifan would disappear into for hours. He could maybe subtly wear his symbol for Yixing for a night. “I like it.”

“That’s you sorted then!” Yixing handed Yifan one in his size, pinning it by the hanger with his hand to see if it might fit over his shoulders. He turned then to the same jumper of his own size, his fingers lifting it up as he chewed on his lip in thought. “Maybe we shouldn’t match. People may think it was accidental.”

We could tell them we did it purposely, Yifan thought but didn’t voice.

Yixing placed the smaller version Yifan’s sweater down, his fingers flitted over to feel at the one that had an owl stitched into the design. And Yifan, he was left lingering on his hope that they could match. It would tell everybody that maybe there was something a little bit more going between them, even though there wasn’t.

Yifan felt left behind as Yixing danced around the store, the ears on his earmuffs flopping around, only to settle on a royal blue christmas jumper. They ended up buying the two complete opposites and Yifan didn’t want to think of the deeper meanings behind that, he wished that it wasn’t any sign of foreshadowing.

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Yixing,

    I never thought I would ever do this but recently, recently there has been something a little different within me. I think it is either bravery or stupidity, I guess your response would be the answer to that conundrum.

I think I’m in love with you. No wait, I know I am. I am not sure when it happened, maybe it was between the times you’d soothe me when I was at my lowest or when I figured out that you’d never give up on my happiness.

I wasn’t broken when I came here but I was fragmenting, I think it is because I had you there to slowly piece me back into a feeling of wholeness but now, I feel as if there is a part of me gone again. There is nothing making me stay here but you, that piece that is missing from within me.

What I am trying to say is that I want to try a relationship with you. I would like there to be an us, even if you don’t feel the same, would you give me one date? Just a few hours that I’d get to treat you just as I think you deserve from somebody in love with you. If not, you’re still my best friend and I can settle with that. All I will ever want from you is your care and I don’t care whether that be platonic or romantic. You are still, and forever will be, my best friend.

I know this letter probably isn’t the most eloquent confession you’ve ever received but it is my proclamation of feelings towards you.

There is no going back for me now, only forward and I would like to do that with you.

 

I love you,

Your Fanfan-ge.

 

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Yifan got to his work’s office block forty five minutes into the celebration, donning his Christmas jumper that had Yixing’s seal of approval, and he was a little  disheartened by the fact that he wouldn’t turn up with his best friend at his side.However, as a part of the creative workforce, Yixing had to help set up the decorations with the rest of his team. He had offered for Yifan to stick around to help hang stuff in higher areas but the taller male had decided against it, he was certain that Yixing’s coworkers would feel uncomfortable with his presence. He already knew of their distaste for him, there was no point in making things awkward for everybody else.

Nevertheless, he had lingering nerves in the bottom of his stomach because firstly, it was his first ever staff party and, secondly, he would be in a social setting that Yixing wouldn’t be able to stick by his side in. There was an evident rise in his anxiety as he stepped into the elevator, a couple he didn’t recognise were backed into the corner when Yifan came to press the button. It wasn’t slight avoidance, it was unabashed and made him regret accepting the offer from Yixing as they made their ascent to the fourth floor. Not only was the whole situation going to be internally painful for the social hand grenade that was Wu Yifan, it would be split between the cafeteria and the design space. Yixing had eased his mind over the fact that other creatively inept people would also linger in the connecting hallway to escape the colourful façade of one room and the canteen turned dancefloor. Yet, he knew Yixing would always be in either setting - his love for dance meaning that he could let loose to almost any song and his comfort in his own space meant that he wouldn’t ever lose sight of himself. Like Yifan was sure he, himself, would.

It was clear that Yixing was right, many people from his own office stood in huddles in the corridor while others filtered from end to end in order to greet as many people as he could. He worried about venturing to search for his bed, the fear that he’d be dragged into something awful, such as dancing, weighed on his mind as he bit his lip nervously. There was no certainty that he would pinpoint Yixing immediately but then it hit him. Scots Pine. “Yifan, you made it.”

Some of his will to leave slipped away when he heard the younger speak behind him, all while he used the balls of his feet to turn around to face the smaller beauty.

“I promised,” he smiled and then he saw how Yixing sparkled with small speckles of silver glitter, probably from the excessively decorated wall ornaments, a drink in his hand and eyes blown slightly with alcohol induced intoxication. The younger couldn’t handle his alcohol, Yifan knew that from the few times Yixing had got drunk from two small glasses of wine or a couple of beers and it made him worry that Yixing would get a little silly by the end of the night.

“Don’t worry, this is just lemonade,” Yixing explained, his eyes reading Yifan so easily that the elder considered the fact that he could have said it aloud. “I am twenty-four, I know my limits.”

“That’s good.”

Yixing giggled, his cheek flushed with the same shade of pink that a Nerine would bloom in, “You don’t want a drink, do you?”

“No, I won’t stay for long,” he mumbled, already checking his watch to see if time had ticked any closer to the polite hour he had promised both Yixing and his boss. “I’m here to show my face and then split from this place to go get some late dinner.”

“That’s a shame, I would have liked to see you get a little tipsy then use your misplaced drunken confidence to start a dance off with that pretty kid from accounting,” Yixing was teasing, goading Yifan with each flick his tongue made as he spoke in an almost lyrical version of Mandarin. “What a waste.”

“I think I would have to take my leave, save his ego from the embarrassment of being beaten by me,” he laughed and Yixing looked a little confused for a minute before that emotion scarpered to be replaced with delight.

“I’m glad you didn’t lose your sense of humour in the time it took you to convince yourself that coming here was a good idea.”

Yifan pulled his face into mock seriousness, “My sense of humour would never part from my side.”

It’s my only good trait… And even that isn’t good enough to make you endlessly happy.

“I promised a few of the guys a dance myself,” Yixing switched subject, his eyes past Yifan’s body and the elder turned around to see a few men Yixing worked with all stood at the doorway to the converted cafeteria, each one coaxing Yixing over to them. “You’ll be here for another hour, right?” Yifan nodded, Yixing suddenly thrusting his cup towards the taller male for him to take. “I should be back by then, hold onto this for me?”

“Sure thing,” Yifan hummed, his fingers curling around the classic red solo cup that marred much of his childhood in the west. A quick reel that flashed in stage scenes. Dark curly hair. Crowded but interesting houses. Touching. Flashing lights. Simplicity. Pressure. Conformity. Isolation. “I’ll be hanging around. Just look for the guy on his own that everybody else is bypassing, that’ll be me.”

Yixing looked as though he was going to say something, a sense of torn concern flooding his slightly glazed eyes, but a quick call of his name, from somebody Yifan recognised as Henry, had him stifling his words. A stiff smile was thrown Yifan’s way before he slinked down to where his friends were waiting for him.

The tall Chinese male never minded being on his own; his overworking single mother had left him alone in one of their numerous apartments in Vancouver almost daily but there was something about people actively avoiding him that made his head lower as each minute passed. Songs flowed into the next, one after one, but Yixing didn’t return and Yifan’s hour was fast running out. The once cool lemonade in his hand had grown lukewarm from Yifan’s nervous sweat that was slowly drenching him as he felt eyes scroll judgingly over his body. He had enough and moved from his spot to find Yixing, to tell the younger that he was leaving and that his drink wasn't going to taste nice anymore.

It was from his vantage point by the door that he looked for his best friend, his heart hammering in worry as it took him a nearly four searches of the room to find Yixing. He was so slow in pinpointing the familiar man because he was settled comfortably on the lap of somebody. Henry.

Yixing’s head was nestled onto Henry's shoulder, his nose pressing lightly against his neck as the other man massaged his back. The other didn't appear drunk or out of sorts, he looked like pure happiness. The blissed out look on his face told Yifan all he needed to know. His eyes just wouldn't move as his heart broke over and over again to the soundtrack of a cheesily upbeat love song. Each frame of time passed by in hours. The details of how Yixing was holding so affectionately to another, the way his eyes glowed under the soft lighting of the room and the frequent kisses Henry was pressing into his hair seemed so normal. That was all it took for Yifan to imagine them doing the same exact thing on the slow days of their office.

The worst part didn't hit him until he had been staring for nearly three minutes, Yixing was never so close with him. Maybe Henry knew Yixing for longer or spent more time during the day with him. That could have been it but Yifan doubted it. He and Yixing would never be at that level, there was no way when all Yixing would ever touch was his arm.

Their own touching was purposeful and had little meaning but what Yifan was witnessing was Yixing seeking comfort. As if Henry was soothing his body with each finger running around his spine in a way that Yifan never could.

Maybe everything in his life as a horrible game played by the universe to see how little he could take. Yifan even wished it to be a horrible nightmare that he'd wake up from and he would struggle to keep himself together as he watched Yixing drink his latte after their morning rendezvous. He would wake up any minute and everything would be fine. There would be no doubt in his head that Yixing’s eyes danced when their gazes caught. There would be no doubt in his head that Yixing reciprocated. There would be no doubt that they were in love with other.

Not stuck in an awful reality where Yifan was being swallowed whole by some dark entity within him.

But that waking up feeling never came; time could only advance and let that blackness paint itself on the inner walls of his heart.

Yifan couldn't take it, all that affection that would never be his to share with the most important person in his was being shown so effortlessly in front of him. He didn't stop as his legs turned and walked him out, his head hung forwards at a ninety degree angle to hide his emotions. There was something within him that yelled for him to get out of there; save himself and his heart.

The short walk out in the street wasn't cold, he couldn't feel it with all that numbness reacting in his muscles. He was on autopilot as he moved from street to street, not bearing to look at anything that could remind him of Yixing. Which was impossible, all Seoul did was remind him of that little piece of home he had found in Yixing. That way his scent would never leave Yifan alone, how each paving stone was etched in the paths Yixing took and the way he could envision the younger Chinese male as he laughed freely. His delight, always unrivalled, was the source of Yifan’s only pain in that moment. He was always so caught up in Yixing that he felt like a disconnected phone; left hanging off the hook when he wanted somebody to call.

He could feel himself crying as he closed his front door, each of his worst fears surfacing to taunt him as his eyes slipped shut. That cup that was stuck in his hand like a lifeline that Yixing would return to him was flung across the room, the sticky liquid covering furniture, his clothing and skin but he didn’t care. His whole body was going haywire with pain and heartbreak but it was impossible to hear that thundering as Yifan’s censured side of his conscience spoke deafeningly loud within his head. It screamed that he was wrong about Yixing, that he wasn’t good enough for the one that he loved and that he’d always pull the short straw because nobody would love him. At least, not the way he would ever want.

In a sudden moment of clarity, he managed to pick his phone out of his pocket with his fingers, there was an urgency to the way he fumbled through the contacts (all four of them) on his phone to get his boss’ number. It dialled and cut straight to voicemail, all he had left to do was talk as evenly as he could.

“It's Yifan. Put my transfer to Canada straight through, I'm taking the job.” He cut right to what he needed to say, not wanting his throat to choke the words that needed to come out. “I want to go back to Vancouver, I'm booking my tickets in the morning.”

I'm running away again.

Putting his phone away again made him hyper aware of something that was slid in behind the device. It felt as though it burned straight through, the heat coming from it would tear straight through his flesh and into his bloodstream. That letter, the one he was going to hand over when his hour was up, it was still there. His blindingly weak confession that surely had nothing compared to the coolly confident Henry. His letter could not bundle Yixing up like that. Yifan’s mediocrity wasn't anything to fall in love with.

His painful ordinary didn't fit with the blazing and vibrant Yixing, it was too different for even opposites to attract.

He managed to pluck the courage to wrap his fist around the full envelope in a crush that would hopefully squeeze the words off the page. He threw that on the table, not caring what happened to it as he got to his storage cupboard. There were boxes piled high and he took each empty one out; his hands taking off the covers and immediately placing anything he owned in them.

He had done the same exact thing once before and it felt ever so normal to be running from himself. Maybe it was selfish but he had promised himself that he would never let himself stick around to let heartbreak fester again.

 

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Yifan landed in Vancouver feeling exhausted, he'd contacted his mother before departing and she had excitedly accepted his query of staying with her until he was on his feet in Canada. While he was her son, he hadn't expected her to be so willing to forgive him but her face when he walked out arrivals had his eyes watering.

She looked so overjoyed to have seen him and he wrapped her up in his arms so tightly that he never wanted to let her go ever again. His mother was the only parent he really had and he'd left her without contacting her once during his time away, something he never thought he would be able to do.

"My little bear," she sighed a small sob choking out of her throat and he rested his head atop of hers, his own quiet tears tracing their way into her hair from his face. "I missed you so much."

He screwed his face up in an internal scold and only gripped on harder, "I missed you too, mama."

They stayed like that for a little while longer before she was tugging him to where she has parked her car up. "Are you back for good or is this just a stepping stone for somewhere else?"

"I'm staying," he promised, which surprised himself but when he looked at his mother, he knew he was saying the right thing. He didn't want to be apart from the only family he really had anymore. "For good, probably."

His mother spoke in a happy rush of how she was loving her retirement, how she had found a boyfriend, called Darin, who went to the same yoga class as her and that she was happy in her life in Canada. It was enough to fill their car journey to the house she had on the outskirts of the city, that awkward spot where it wasn't quite yet the suburbs but it wasn't the inner city either.

She took him to the bedroom she had made up for him, ditching his clothes in the wardrobe before moving to show him the rest of the house. "When is the rest of your stuff coming?"

"Christmas is a busy time for them, so I'm going to guess just before new year then," Yifan estimated, his mid taking him forward to early February. "I'll hopefully have found a place by then, though."

"If not, you're welcome to stay here," she assured him as they went down the stairs to the kitchen. "I won't be here though, I'll be flying to Washington to spend the holidays with Darin's daughters. I would have cancelled when you called but I'd already bought the tickets."

"Mama, don't worry," he felt himself grow disappointed that he'd be alone over Christmas and the western New Year, but he knew it wasn't his place to disrupt his mother's life. "You've probably had this planned out for a while, don't worry about me."

They slowly slipped back into how they were before Yifan's divorce. His mother's need to dote on him growing each minute and he only ever wanted to indulge her, he'd also bought her a gift in the airport as he left Korea. He knew a semi-expensive handbag probably wasn't enough to make up for the rift he'd caused. But, she had beamed so happily as she removed all the items from her purse that seemed to be worn out and into the new one.

"Yifan," she said as they both settled on the sofa after eating, his mother's traditional Cantonese food filled his stomach and senses in a way that he had not felt since he left. "I think you should see Raine." If he had been drinking, he would have choked. "She's out of town at the minute but I think it would be good for the both of you."

"I'm sure she doesn't want to see me, mama," Yifan mumbled, his nerves electrifying at the idea of having some sort of awkward or hateful interaction with his ex-wife. "I left her because I'm gay and now I'm back because I've got a broken heart."

"Things are different now, people change and mature," her words filtering into that part of his brain that all pieces of advice from his mother went. He didn't miss how her face changed as he mentioned his broken heart but didn't dare say anything more about that. "You were nineteen when you got married and while I probably should have told you to slow down, I encouraged you. I think I always knew you never really knew yourself and I thought getting married would give you some of that identity you had been looking for. This is who you are and I accept that now, I'm almost certain that she does. I'll set something up for you before I leave, okay? It would be good for you both to face each other and then you can get some stability in your lives back."

Yifan laid awake in bed that night, he wished as he looked up at he stars through the window that he could have gone to Yixing. He longed for the younger's advice when it came to things such as that but it was so out of reach that he felt stupid for even considering it.

Yifan started working a few days after that, his new office and workers being a little less hostile than what things had been like in Korea. They'd even given him some welcoming gifts and cards that stood proudly on his desk for days afterwards. It was strange having people call him Kris, the western name he'd given himself, again. He had managed to get a new e-mail address, one that Yixing wouldn't have, and he still found himself refreshing it when it reached the time Yixing would get hungry.

There were other habits that were hard to shake, despite the fact he'd been doing them alone. Getting coffee in the mornings were the worst part; he would automatically order two. His and Yixing's order, along with a croissant. It was an utter waste when he realised that he didn't like the sweet lattes Yixing drank like water but I gave him comfort, as if the smell of it was that one that would mix with pine. As if the warmth coming through the to-go cup was Yixing's hand in his own. The air was even colder than Seoul, his breath making its way out like smoke and Yifan wondered if picking up the habit would help him forget Yixing.

He always chickened out as soon as he walked past a certain shop that had a conifer decorated outside of it. The scent it left him with was too musky to be Yixing's but it made him think of how those eyes he loved would glare at him if there was a cigarette hanging from his lips.

Lunch was the same but different, his workers always invited him to eat with them and he accepted. However, there was no spicy chicken pizza or dimple to brighten the middle of the day. There was no adorable laughter filling everything he heard, no blazing warm smile or delicate touches on his arm to make sure that he was still focused on the most colourful person he'd ever come across.

Yifan's dinner habits changed a little; either eating with his mother while he was still there or on his own when he finally got into his own apartment. His things all arrived earlier than speculated, which was a pleasant surprise Yifan was glad to have had. It meant he wouldn't be sat doing nothing when he got home from work; he would spend time doing everything thoroughly and completely. It made him feel as though he wasn't lost, as if everything had a purpose if he gave it one.

Of course, that didn't last as soon as Christmas hit and his office closed up. He suddenly had a lot less to do and he found himself wandering the streets well into the night. He would often get back at two in the morning, legs tired but brain busier than ever. His mind not letting him be happy yet, not when he was eating alone for every meal.

There was nothing lighting up his world anymore, it was slipping into a shade of greyscale where the only colours he could see were green and brown. Evergreen. It haunted him everywhere, attacking each sense until he felt overwhelmed with the world. He couldn't venture out into the forest, he couldn't face anything that would remind him of that hollowness under his sternum. It was like Yixing loved in the cavity and now there was nothing there to fill it, he didn't know what to do.

There was so little he could do to stop his feelings from catching up with him, no matter how fast he ran or where. Yixing was everywhere while being nowhere at the same time. Christmas struck hardest, the streets deserted as people surrounded themselves with family and while a phone call from his mother was comforting, it wasn't enough to make him as happy as he would wish.

He could hear the children of his apartment building yelling and playing with their new toys and trinkets but Yifan didn't have any gifts of his own. Very much unlike the year before where Yixing had bought him twelve, he didn't quite understand the concept of twelve days of Christmas but Yifan was still happy. He had all the things Yixing had ever bought him in a box that was still sealed. He had considered burning it but knew he would regret it but that Christmas sweater that he knew was in there taunted him.

He ate instant noodles he'd managed to pick up from the supermarket as his dinner; a contrast to the year before when he and Yixing had tried to make a full western Sunday Dinner alone. It had ended up as a catastrophe but Yifan hadn't minded when Yixing made them both something edible. He couldn't even remember what but that didn't matter, he was always too caught up in Yixing to even notice.

December 31st came and went in a barrage of fireworks, parties and drunkenness. Well, Yifan could see fireworks all around him, hear parties on every street as he drank beer alone at the kitchen table he'd erected. If he was telling the truth, he'd never felt as alone as he had in that moment. Not in that corridor as he waited for Yixing, who would never come, but in that lifeless apartment. The rooms were cast in too many shades of grey to be happy and he made it his resolution to give colour to his own life. Rather than take it from somebody else's.

January was blizzard season, leaving him showed in on a few days but then he would catch up on all the films he had missed out on during his time in Korea. He even watched some awful shows, things only ever to pass the time between sleeping and working.

He always got a lot more work done than ever before; no more waiting around for Yixing to waste his hours clocked in, his managerial else giving him responsibility and the fact that he wasn't thinking about Yixing as he liaised between offices. He always shifted the Seoul bracket off to somebody else who could speak Korean, claiming that it would be good practice for when they moved up in the company. Not because he feared having to connect with the creative department, just in case Yixing picked up the phone. He didn't know what he would do if that happened.

Yifan was pulled in every direction by the pain he felt but he always fought it.

You've got to be better than this.

This is your life, actually live it.

Love doesn't mean the start and end of the world.

Despite those thoughts, he never once managed to succeed in whatever he wanted. He couldn't forget Yixing, not for a second of the day. Even when Yifan convinced himself that Yixing wasn't on his mind, he knew he was.

He'd never stop thinking of the one he loved.

 

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Biting the bullet seemed to have been the lesser of two evils; Yifan decided to take the advice from his mother to meet up with his ex-wife and sort everything out. It had all been set up through his mama, her acting as the messenger as Yifan decided upon place and time. It was purposeful that he chose the coffee shop they had wasted hours in and at a mid evening time.

It was after the rush hour crush but there would be enough people for Yifan to melt into if things were to go very wrong. He wasn't scared, he knew what he was facing but the anticipation of the unexpected had him on edge. It made his nails pick at the teabag tied to the edge of his cup, a nervous habit he had developed since he had returned from Korea. The shaking of his fingers was because of the snow, not the nerves fraying in his wrists, and he regretted not picking up his gloves. His cup was half empty, draining of warm water with each gulp and his eyes didn't budge from the door. He was awaiting for that black curly hair to bounced as the owner walked in, the mid-shade of ebony skin to lighten as she stepped into the coffee shop and wide brown eyes to stand out against bright whites of eyes. He was waiting for her to be exactly how he left her.

He didn't even know if she would turn up, his mother had never got back to him with a confirmation or rejection. Maybe she had decided to have nothing to do with him personally, he had unwittingly deceived her for years of both their lives. Though, he had also managed to fool himself too. To fit himself into that little box that he was pushed into from every side possible. His grandparents wanting great grandchildren, his mother wanting somebody who could care for Yifan when he was incapable of it himself, his school painting him in the classic jock stereotype. The only person who hadn't exactly done that was his ex-wife. Maybe she would know that, that he sought comfort in the fact he could be somebody more like his true self around her. Maybe not completely but more so than he had ever been able to do with anybody. Well, anybody until Yixing.

"Kris?" He heard the clear Vancouver accent call and he stopped looking at the door to look to his right. "Kris!"

He could see her perfectly in his vision; her hair was straight, the three freckles beneath her left eye and the blindingly white teeth were smiling at him. "Raine, you're here."

"Of course I am," her familiar chirp made him settle in his seat a little more. "I mean, why wouldn't I come?"

"Uh, I didn't tell you I was gay and we got married," he deadpanned and he could see her lipstick red lip stretch into a smile.

He watched her sit down across from him, her arms shaking off her jacket and Yifan noted that it was branded. Not outrageously, as she clearly dressed for the wintry weather and each piece of her seemingly designer outfit was practical. He thought it fit her well, her elegance laced with her purposeful nature. She was different but definitely still the Raine he knew.

"That was a dick move," she concluded with a happy nod before her face slipped into seriousness. "But, I think I understand more now. I was always quite ignorant to how your life was different to mine. I always just assumed that because I'm black and you're Chinese that we had the same problems in school, being in a predominantly white neighbourhood wasn't easy. Which is why we got close in the first place."

"I'm not really following you," Yifan admitted quietly.

"I never realised the pressure you were under as the only son, only grandson, of a Chinese family," she sighed, her brightness dimming a little bit more. "I think I always lost sight of the fact that we weren't the same."

"Oh," Yifan's nails cut through the mesh and tea leaves scattered in his cup. "I don't really know what to say."

"It's okay for you not to say anything, I don't really expect you to," she soothed, her familiarity easing its way into Yifan's bones. "I do want to know why you're back though?"

"Uh," Yifan let out with an uneasy laugh, "I fell in love with my best friend."

"You're nursing your broken heart where you know how to deal with things, right?" She always had a weird ability to read Yifan before he had laid out all the facts, it was something that had made Yifan think his friendly love was something more. He nodded, his nail pushing more of the tea leaves around the white mug. "I'm guessing the guy didn't reciprocate?"

"I think he has somebody else," Yifan sighed, voicing something that had followed him around since he had seen Yixing with his body draped around Henry. "And well, I can't compare to the other guy. I'm well aware of how underwhelming I am, so what's the point in hearing it from his mouth too?"

There was a hard flick on his ear, right over where he had a piercing he'd had done in high school. "You're not underwhelming, Kris, what the hell is wrong with you? Somebody as awesome as me thought you were good enough to marry, so don't you dare insult your poor ex-wife like that."

"I think you've forgotten about the fact we got divorced because I figured out that I'm gay. I don’t think I could get much more underwhelming than that awful cliché."

She laughed, not the reaction he expected at all but it felt nice to hear that he had made somebody happy when he felt so low. "You were still a great husband  before that. As minimal as your cooking skills are, you always tried your hardest to help me out. You supported me, financially and emotionally, when I lost my job and you never once complained about working overtime to cover the rent because I couldn't contribute. As underwhelming as you think you are, you are extraordinary in a way very few people are. You came to terms with your sexuality and I was the first person you told; as shitty as that felt then, I can see now that it was the right thing. You didn't cheat on me or lie about it, you told me directly and I can see now how hard that must have been."

"Yah, you sound like my mother," Yifan grumbled, finally pulling his finger out of the sodden leaves.

"Maybe it's because I'm a mom now," she lit up completely and Yifan's face dropped in shock, "Don't worry, she isn't yours."

"I didn't think she would be, we weren't very active in that way," Yifan's face flamed with embarrassment when he heard his own words. "So, you remarried?"

"I'm engaged," she showed him her left hand, the silver band on her finger was much more fitting to her character than the simplistic on he'd given her. The small diamonds shined brightly and Yifan could only think of eyes curving as a dimpled smile was directed at him. "I didn't think I should get married without clearing everything up with you first."

Somehow he could see it now, she was in love and he knew if from the fact that he could see that same molten affection in his own eyes whenever he looked in the mirror and thought of Yixing. It wasn't the expensive clothes she was wearing, the feature defining makeup or the way she had done her hair that was different. Raine herself was overflowing with what Yifan wished he could hold onto; that security of being in love with the person you belonged with.

"Yeah, I understand," Yifan nodded, "You said she, so you've got a little girl?"

Raine delved her hand into her bag and pulled out her phone, tapping the home button to reveal a young girl who looked almost exactly like her, "Her name is Charlotte, she's two."

"She's got your hair," Yifan exclaimed happily, loving that the girl had taken on her mother's best feature, "look at all those curls on that little head."

"Her eyes are from her father though," Raine placed her phone back on the table, her clipped nails tapping the surface softly. "You'd really like her, she's so funny."

"She's your kid, of course she would be," Yifan felt a weight shift from his heart when he realised that Raine was happier, that him leaving had been better for her than he could have ever imagined. "She's very beautiful."

"As you just said, she is my child's would you ever expect anything more from my offspring?"

"Never," Yifan smiled softly, his body melting into his seat.

"Where are you living now?" She changed the subject, her confidence reaching its bragging limit.

"I've got an apartment by the water, it's the most dull place I've ever been in. Great views, it's just boring," maybe because Yixing wasn't there to fill the space with all those colours that beam out from within him. "I'm going to get some paint tomorrow, brighten it up a little more."

"Do you need a hand? I'm not working this weekend and Charlotte's going camping with her dad," she offered and Yifan found himself accepting readily with a nod. "I've got a pen in my bag, write your number or address down on a napkin and I'll get hold of you." Yifan watched as she dug around amongst the stuff she had in her purse, her face pursed in concentration until she pulled out a blue biro. "What colour are you thinking of going?"

"Forest green," Yifan responded automatically and she looked at him with a surprised expression, as though he had just told her he was going to paint his walls in blood. "What?"

"Kris, you hate green," she exclaimed, "You chose your high school on the fact that there was no green anywhere in the uniform."

"I guess my tastes changed," he whispered, a pine scent flooding his memory.

He tried to suppress it as best he could but suddenly he was hurtling through a series of moments drenched in colour. How the frames started out rich and then faded into watered down pastel cameos of what he wished for. Those flashes of Yixing in morning, him surrounded by snow and him laying beneath Yifan in dimmed lighting. His skin burned around his wrists, as if Yixing's fingers were still there gripping onto him, as he did when he didn't want to lose Yifan in a crown.

But then it was gone; no Yixing and no hand tugging him deeper in love. Despite the fact that the trap door had been left open and Yifan was still free falling.

"Oh, I do like a good bit of character development." Yifan didn't speak as he wrote his details onto the serviette, the blue standing out on the white and he handed it back. "I'll call you about painting, be sure to wait for me."

I don't have anybody else to wait for anymore. "How could I not?"

 

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Opening the door, the dribbled splatters of paint on his cheek, had Yifan’s life compressing like two cars in a high speed crash. His chest was the bonnet that crumpled under the sheer force, while his brain was the passenger who was trapped under the dashboard with their safety belt stuck in the plug. Each thing he’d convinced himself of, everything he’d worked to forget and move on from came back when he realised.

Scots Pine. Dimple. Auburn. Umber. Light. Colour.

Each feature hit him like other cars joining the pileup, edging him further into destruction.

All those things colliding into one could only mean Yixing but Yifan was certain that the smaller male wasn’t in his eyeline. That Yixing wasn’t over eight thousand kilometres from where he should be. Even as he blinked, the man at his doorway wasn’t moving or disappearing.

 Yixing was there.

 Yixing was crying.

 Yixing was holding the letter he’d thrown away.

“What is this?” The new arrival whimpered as he held up the rumpled paper that had a few stains on it that hadn’t been there when the taller male had it. He walked towards Yifan, making him back up into the entry hallway of the apartment and the door was slammed behind the shorter man. “Yifan, what the fuck is this? You’re in love with me?!”

“Yixing, I―”

“You what? You could so easily throw me away? Like this letter?” Yixing was breathing so heavily through his nose while his eyes reddened into an alarming state of despair. “You left with no word to me or anybody else. You gave me a fucking spare key to your apartment and the only time I ever had to use it was because you’d runaway. And then,” there was a sobbing hiccup, a pause then a whine as Yixing tried to get his next words out. “And then, I go through that box of junk you left by the door and find this,” he held the letter up again, “A letter where you tell me that I fixed you to the point where you fell in love with me. How could you leave and sleep comfortably at night with the knowledge that I could never have read this? Yifan, how fucking could you? You’re supposed to love me, so why would you break my heart so easily?”

“Yixing, please don’t cry,” he whispered, “Do anything else but please do not cry.”

“I just want to know why, Yifan? Why you wrote this? Why you left? Why you left me?” Yixing’s body was depressing in on itself, a shift as though he was the one caving and Yifan knew the feeling all too well. He’d had it since he first laid eyes on Yixing. “What did I do to make you come back here, to a place that you said you’d never return to, without even a hint of a goodbye?”

“I’m so sorry,” Yifan uttered with more confidence than before, his words striking Yixing in a tightened clutch, “I was going to tell you everything, about my feelings and what I had been thinking but then everything seemed to point in the opposite direction. We fought, we drifted, I felt left behind while you were fine and I couldn’t bear to be replaced. The way you were with Henry was just like how you were with me. I felt so insignificant while you were the only one I had, I had to leave.” He paused while he drew in a long breath. “That’s what I do when I’m heartbroken, I leave and push myself into something new but this time. There was nothing else for me to do than come home, go to a place that I knew how to deal with not being good enough. I needed to escape.”

Yixing looked more tame when Yifan finally developed the ability to face him, his eyes not slanted with hate or hurt. There was still cold anger swirling in the dark space between Yixing’s irises and his pupils but Yifan could take that over a crying Yixing. “That doesn’t help me, Yifan. It just tells me that you were too much of a coward to do anything. How could you say ‘There is nothing making me stay here but you, that piece that is missing from within me’ then leave? Did you suddenly realise that I wasn’t that part that you needed to be complete. You call me you best friend but Yifan, you need to realise that disappearing without a trace isn’t something that any friend of any level would do?! Most certainly not a best friend.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I hate running away from my problems but I needed to do this. Did you really think that I would be able to stick around and watch the man I had fallen in love with live his life as though I never existed. I guessed that I should just disappear, it would make things easier for everybody.”

Yixing scrunched his up, his browline and frown pushed his features down to a display of his reluctance, “Why would I ever want to forget you?”

“Because you―”

“Kris?” A newer, much more feminine, voice called from the end of the hallway.

One glance at Yixing told Yifan that he recognised the woman, the younger male had seen a few photographs of her in Yifan’s old apartment and Yixing looked as if love, god and hate were raging inside of him. Yixing whispered in harsh Mandarin, eyes set on the ground, “Maybe that’s why. I understand now. I’ll go.”

“Xing―” Yifan tried speaking but the man had gone in a flash, the rate in which his head had whipped around meant that a droplet was flung through the air and onto Yifan’s shirt. Yixing was crying again and this time he wasn’t angry, he was heartbroken.

Yifan could see it now.

All those times they ate together, nagged at each other, played around in the street, those fleeting but lingering touches. They all meant something to Yixing. The very same thing that they did to Yifan.

Yifan wasn’t on that conveyer of people rushing in and out of Yixing’s life, he was the finished product and now he was breaking his maker.

“I fucked up, right?” Raine grimaced and Yifan pushed himself back to the wall, head resting at an angle on the whitewash. “He was the one you talked about?”

“Uh huh,” he closed his eyes, all the happiness he had managed to build up in the weeks he had been back in Canada diminished with each step the two of them could hear Yixing taking. It was all worsened by the fact that the fleeing man’s sobs echoed up the stairwell and into the open apartment. “What do I do?”

He didn’t know he was crying; not when a bead spilled out from his ducts, not when a sob harrowed in his chest and not when Raine rubbed his arm soothingly. It was when he felt his body shake with the exhaustion he had been fighting off since he looked away from Yixing for the last time in Korea. His crumbling world was created by the fact that he didn’t even go after Yixing, he didn’t run down those stars after him or chase the small man through the streets of Vancouver until he listened to him.

He wanted to, how he willed his legs to move, to take him to the man he was certain would be the only person he would ever love so wholly. It was the weight of lifelong confusion over himself, a year of loneliness and then two years of bittersweet heartbreak that had him fully lodged where he stood. They were shackles pinning him to the floor, keeping him there as he tugged with all his might to break free from himself, for once, and make Yixing happy.

The one time he didn’t run is the one time he broke everything.

“I’m so sorry, Kris but we can make this better okay,” Raine mumbled, “He’s left a bag here, he’s going to need to come back for it.” He knew she was right, that Yixing would return for the item because that was the bag Yixing always had with him. The one that carried their takeout food, the clothes they bought on shopping trips and it probably had everything important to Yixing within it at that time. “I know you like being alone at times like this, is it best if I leave?”

“Would you?” Yifan’s voice croaked and he could see that she wasn’t sure of herself, she didn’t want to leave him while he cracked like ice but they both knew it would be best if that happened.

“Call me when you need some company, Charlotte said she wanted to meet you,” Raine was smiling, albeit sadly, as she spoke of her daughter and Yifan nodded, his head finally coming to dip down. “Don’t shut yourself away or think that this is the end, if he loves you enough to come all the way here then he loves you enough to travel across the city.”

Her words faded as she walked out but he knew she was right. Yixing had followed him across the world to talk about a love confession, that had to mean something.

Nevertheless, Yifan was beginning to haunt himself with the notion that the one time he didn’t run was the one time he broke everything.

 

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Yifan found Yixing’s passport in the bag he’d left behind, a receipt for the hotel he must have been staying at poked out from between the pages and Yifan sighed in relief. He had a way of finding Yixing and he knew he had to do it soon. It would give him an actual reason to try to get Yixing over, to make him see that things weren’t what he had assumed.

He dialled the number for the hotel quickly, praying that he was put through before he backed out. A strange stroke of luck swung in his way as he was greeted with the hotel name immediately.


"Hello, I have a friend called Zhang Yixing staying in your hotel and he's over from China but he's left his passport behind at my apartment. I would call him myself but that would just cost him an arm and a leg in roaming charges, I was wondering if you could pass a message along for me?"

"Of course, sir," the man on the other end confirmed, "That was a Mr. Zhang, did you say?"

"Yeah," Yifan nodded and he heard the other man hum for him to carry on. "Tell him that I'll be around on new year, so if he wants to pick it up then, then he is more than welcome to come to my apartment."

"Is that all?" The receptionist asked thirty seconds later and Yifan gave a polite no before the call disconnected.

Yifan had never expected Yixing to respond to the message he'd left with the hotel's receptionist so willingly, but that thought went as Yifan saw him in person at his door with a sad but tired expression on his face.

However, there was no crying or anger, only Yifan stepping aside to allow Yixing into the apartment and he knew that the younger saw the food set out on the table. "I'm not interrupting anything?"

"No," Yifan shook his head, "I made this in case you did show up."

"Oh," Yixing took a seat on the sofa that was draped in a white sheet, obviously to stop the paint from getting on it.

It was awkward, neither wanting to break the tension and Yifan wished to hold Yixing's hand within his own to soothe the younger's thoughts.

"Green," Yixing said finally.

"What?"

"Green, it's not a colour I would have thought you'd choose for a living room," he explained, eyes fixed on the wall that had managed to be done before the altercation a couple of days before.

However, the apartment was draped in everything Yifan owned to celebrate the new year with. It was nothing like how it would be back in China and he wasn't heading into Chinatown like he would when he was younger. He was fine celebrating it on his own but with Yixing there, he couldn't stop himself from thinking about how they could celebrate together. If they were paired off then maybe they would have been able to create their own traditions to follow. However, the younger's presence was all he needed at that moment.

"It reminded me of you," he confessed quietly, his lips barely moving as the words came out. "That's why I chose it."

Yixing flinched away, showing Yifan that it was clearly the wrong thing to say even though it was the truth. "Why would you want to be reminded of me here when you already had me there?"

"But I didn't, Xing-ah," Yifan's voice was softer as he turned to look at Yixing directly. "You never made it clear that you wanted me or that you even thought of me that way. Or, didn't recognise your efforts to do that. Definitely not," Yifan took a deep breath in, his eyes closing as the scenes of the last time he'd seen Yixing in Korea came to mind. "Not after I saw you and Henry at the Christmas party."

Yixing's head turned to Yifan so quickly that his neck clicked painfully but that didn't overrun the distraught look Yixing had on his face. "Whatever you think you saw, it wasn't that," he defended quickly, making Yifan reluctant to believe every word because it wasn't like Yixing to leap onto something so swiftly. "It wasn't what you're thinking."

"What else could it have been?" Yifan sighed his head dropping into his hands. "I know I'm not particularly great or anybody special but I waited for you. For two hours, I waited alone in that hallway and you didn't even seem bothered by it because you were with him instead. What was I supposed to think? I knew you'd forgotten that I was even there."

Yixing opened his mouth and closed it again, clearly having nothing else to argue but Yifan knew it was true. Yixing had forgotten him and that was okay, Yifan would have forgotten himself too, if the roles had been reversed. "I don't ever blame you for not placing me in the centre of your mind all the time; I know you have more people in your life than me and that's because you're amazing. There is nothing wrong with letting smaller things slip your mind."

"How can you see yourself like that?" Yixing's hand found Yifan's knee, holding in slightly in his hands. "I know you don't have too much confidence but I thought you at least saw yourself as the most important person in my life. Yes, I forgot about you being at that party but I was sure you'd have left already. I know it was wrong to assume, I can see that now and I'm so sorry I wasn't more attentive towards you. I thought you knew how I felt, I really did. That's why it hurt me so much to find you'd gone."

"I'm sorry for leaving, I really am. It is purely because sticking around to wait for somebody to break your heart isn't healthy, so I decided to decide for myself. Maybe break my own heart before I convinced myself I could have yours. But, I am glad I did it. I've made up with my mother and Raine," Yifan looked up at Yixing and saw his face fall as he said his ex-wife's name. "I'm meeting her fiancée and daughter next week."

It was clear that Yixing tried to smother the relief that was wanting to unleash itself and it made Yifan knowing that Yixing was so drawn in by his availability. "So, what does all of this mean for us? If you want there to be an 'us', that is."

"Even if we decide to maybe try things out, I'm staying here... I think it would be best if I stayed here for my mom, I owe her that much," Yifan wasn't worried about speaking of such things to Yixing, they both knew that if either of them were asked to choose between somebody and their mother, then it would always be their mom that they chose. "I'm sorry if you thought I would come back but no, I don't think I could."

Yixing was quiet, things stilling in their air as he mulled over Yifan's decision and he had that nagging feeling in his stomach that was there just before something bad happened. His sense of fight or flight triggering. "I have three more weeks off from work, I'll think about options then?"

"We're going to make a go of trying to be together?" Yifan's face dropped in shock and then suddenly Yixing was upon him, pressing a gentle kiss onto his lips.

Yixing was smiling confidently, "That's what I want, what about you?"

"Of course I do," he grinned back and kissed Yixing first the second time around, their lips coming together to create fire between their bodies.

Yifan wasn't exactly sure why, but he was being tugged into a standing position with his mouth still on the younger's. He had no intention of stopping but the other pulled away slightly.

"Which way is the bedroom, Fanfan-ge?" Yixing whispered against his lips between kisses and then Yifan was leading him there with an arm around his waist. The elder was too lost in tasting Yixing to mind if the world ended outside but he could notice the fact that Yixing had finally said that nickname aloud.. Their lips morphing into one entity as they moved and weaved in and out of each other. The delicate nature of what they were doing quickly escalated until they were stood making out in the middle of Yifan's bedroom.

The younger chuckled as he saw the New Year lanterns scattered and lit over the room, it was always Yifan's favourite festival because it usually marked the time when winter was drawing to a close.

Yixing was touching Yifan all over, his scent curving like vines around the taller's throat and the slow pressurised drag of fingers Yifan could feel through his clothing was torturous. There was no urgency in the way Yixing was moving under the red light cast by the lanterns, each crease of his flesh was memorising Yifan's body and the elder was committing each caress deep into his own brain. He thought Yixing's kisses were heavenly and he could only think of how otherworldly binding their bodies would be.

"Take my clothes off, Fanfan-ge," Yixing whispered ever so quietly in his ear. "I want you to see me and think of that; rid yourself of those thoughts your imagination has given you. Indulge in reality."

Yixing's words weren't lewd, nor dirty, but it had Yifan growing half hard. Arousal coated his insides, his external body prickling in goose flesh and shivers. That didn't stop his fingers from finding the soft lower hem on Yixing's t-shirt, a soft tug upwards had Yixing lifting his arms over his head. The fabric was gone sequentially faster as more skin was revealed, skin that was wound taught over undulating muscle. Yifan had always expected Yixing to have a small belt of extra flesh around his midsection but the defined abs were a welcome sight. Yixing was not only perfect in his face, hair, smell, appearance,personality, character, touch, aura and essence, but body too. Yifan had won the lottery of love, he'd fallen for this fallen angel who could easily be a god.

Maybe Yifan was Yixing's Echo, not his Narcissus, after all.

"Fan," Yixing urged when the elder had been staring for longer  than was possibly appropriate. "I want you to take me, not gaze at me as though I'm something you will never see again."

Small hands guided his dexterous fingers to tip into the top of Yixing's jeans. The heat emitting from Yixing had Yifan boiling up, nothing barring his touch from scolding into, flowing straight through, Yifan's weak defences. That only heightened as his thumbs pressed to unhook the button at the top of Yixing's zipper, the flick of it coming out of the clasp had Yifan's heart stuttering and then Yixing's own hands took over Yifan's again. This thumb and forefinger squeezed around Yifan's to undo his fly and then pull the material down his legs from hip to floor. It left the younger bare, save for his underwear, from the waist down and Yifan felt like he was dying.

He knew his cause of death would be Yixing in his naked glory, not because of the lust that would emanate from within him but because it made them both vulnerable. Clothes were a mask, a defence, from the outer world and seeing Yixing without it was a sign of trust, commitment and maybe even love. "Keep going, ge."

Yifan want to, he wanted to tease Yixing out of his briefs and drag out their time together. However, he stood there watching Yixing's hardening member fighting to push against his stomach as the seconds passed. The pinger let out a sigh of relief as Yifan's hands went towards where his underwear covered him but that became a moan as Yifan ran his finger from the base to the tip of Yixing's cock through the fabric. He could only repeat the action over and over again, admiring how Yixing's eyes rolled back a little bit more as the pressure increased.

If Yifan had found Yixing's bare skin scorching; then he was suddenly feeling a searing sun that was moving close to explosion. The younger's heat had him smelling the faintly salty smell of pre-cum in the air as a small patch of fabric became wetter, Yifan pressed his other index finger straight into the small area. His left finger focused on rubbing the head of Yixing's cock while the right focused on rubbing where a prominent vein bulged from the member through the thin sheet of cloth. It made him dig harder, speed up in his teasing motions when Yixing began to whine softly with shallow trusts at the air to match. The red colour that was blooming over his upper body, scaling his neck to his cheeks made Yifan think of how the shade matched the occasion.

Yifan suddenly stopped, Yixing's eyes flying open as the pleasuring touches left his body. The elder finally pried down the boxer briefs that were constricting Yixing, a small sting of pre-cum attached itself to the fabric and Yifan sank down to the ground to help Yixing step out of them. He felt the younger watching, staring and anticipating as he lifted the underwear to hip lips to suck lightly at the damp spot Yixing had made. It was clear Yixing was torn between being disgusted at the sight or growing ever more turned on. It was the latter, Yifan concluded, given how Yixing's reddening cock twitched not once, twice but thrice at the sight of him savouring the pre-cum.

Yifan was on his knees and Yixing sank down to be at his level too, his smaller hand taking the underwear from Yifan's mouth to put into his own. The taller male's chest constricted, his own cock suddenly feeling as if it was going to cum at the sight and a mumbled 'fuck' left his mouth.

Still sucking on the material, Yixing began to work Yifan out of his clothes, before allowing it to drop out from his lips to mouth at the outline of Yifan's cock from where he was kneeling. His smaller tongue acting as Yifan's finger had done, pressing directly onto where Yifan's slit was, the tip of the tongue pushing it around teasingly and Yifan couldn't stop his hand from twisting into Yixing's soft hair. That only released another rush of Scots Pine through his nose and into his throat where he could taste it.

Yixing moved way, giving Yifan his own room to remove his boxers and awkwardly stand to make his way across to his bed. "Xing-ah, come here."

The smaller male crawled across the floor, only stand to pull himself onto the bed, where he grabbed Yifan's hand to bring him into the mattress. "You have no idea how much I've thought about this," Yixing whispered as he came close enough for his lips to brush against Yifan's. "How many times I've thought of your long, thick fingers fucking into me," Yifan felt his eyes widen as Yixing moved to lace their other hands together. "How I've dreamt about your mouth, small but plump, sucking me off or eating me out."

"Yixing please stop," Yifan panted, images of Yixing touching himself on his own and crying out Yifan's name as he came crashed into his consciousness. "I think I'll cum if you continue."

Yixing shut himself up, only moving away from Yifan to dig through the elder's drawers and Yifan could only watch his ass bob up and down as he did so. He felt so many urges through his body; to swipe a lick up Yixing's entrance, to land a teasing hit on one of the soft skinned cheeks, bite into the flesh to see if Yixing liked the feeling or to grab and grip tightly in his hands. He didn't have long to wait, as Yixing discovered a sealed bottle of lube and unopened condoms, that Yifan could only hope were in date.

Yixing sat in front of Yifan, holding the items out to him and then the younger was nibbling on his own bottom lip. "Have you ever been with another guy before?" The question caught Yifan off guard, freezing him in place as his eyes widened at the worried expression the younger had. "It's important to tell me if you haven't because otherwise this could really hurt."

"I have," Yifan's voice came out in a painful choke. "Before I went to Korea."

"You remember what to do?" Yifan nodded, his confirmation took a few moments for Yixing to register before he laid himself out on the bed. "Kiss me."

There was no way Yifan couldn't oblige such a request, his lips landing on Yixing's with a cushioning sigh. It wasn't anything frenzied, the pressure didn't give any room for misplaced passion and then Yifan slipped back. He picked the condoms and lube from Yixing's hands, undoing the packaging to squeeze the viscous liquid onto three of his fingers and using the other hand to spread it down and between the appendages.

Once they were coated well enough, the first finger used the excess to lubricate around the hole Yixing had revealed to him as he approached. The tip of it dipped in and he could see how Yixing was concentrating on staying calm as the rest of his finger breached. Yifan couldn't feel much resistance but he knew that could have been the opposite for Yixing, all depending on how sensitive he was to internal touches. Yifan watched Yixing's expression to see if he could see genuine relaxation around the intrusion, only when muscles along the brow line loosened did Yifan enter the second. He moved in shallow and short pushes in to get the smaller male used to it, it was much needed as there was a lot more around Yifan's fingers with that entry. He moved in slight scissoring motions, focused more on making sure Yixing was comfortable rather than turned on. The search for his prostate could wait while his face was twisted in something painful, nose bunching at the top and his cheeks tightening his lips into a strained pout.

It was by accident that one of the bony nodules on Yifan's hand pressed teasingly onto Yixing's prostate, the audible gasp and limp thrust up was all the evidence Yifan needed to add the third finger then. That seemed to suit the younger more than two fingers; the way in which his walls clenched around Yifan's hand ensured that his prostate was propped and grazed against nearly constantly. It helped that Yifan could move with more force and fervour without having to worry about Yixing feeling uncomfortable. Yixing's high pitched whines became slightly deeper moans as Yifan bent all three fingers to drag across the bundle of nerves. A large drop of pre-cum seeped from the top of Yixing's cock and onto his stomach. Yifan dipped his other fingers into it and caressed the liquid languidly up Yixing's shaft, making the younger's back arch. Yifan wished he could bite at the neck that was revealed in the movement.

"Fanfan-ge," Yixing whimpered, a twitch in both of their cocks as a response but Yixing's reaction was far larger, the kind that happened before Yifan came and the elder retracted his hands from Yixing's body immediately.

"Do you feel okay?" Yifan asked, his hands pulling a condom over himself before he stretched out above Yixing. "Do you still want to carry on?"

Yixing's closed eyes opened while he nodded, a small smile on his face as he gave Yifan the consent he wanted to continue. Yixing's hands came up to rest on Yifan's shoulders from where they had been, Yifan realised belatedly, clutching at the bedsheets. That grounded the elder, his body relaxing a little as he positioned himself at Yixing's entrance and used his hand to allow the he'd to push in.

"Wait a minute," Yixing quickly asked, his face twisting in discomfort and Yifan obeyed, not wanting to harm Yixing with hasty roughness.

Instead of allowing the time to pass awkwardly, Yixing initiated them in a slow kiss. While there were tongues wrapping and licking at each other, there was no one dominant side and Yifan found his body moulded into Yixing's naturally because of it. Right until one of the hands at his shoulders ran down his back to allow the hand to push on Yifan's ass, the pressure being enough for Yifan to pick up the hint. His condom covered cock slid the rest of the way in, adoring how hot and tight it was within Yixing. It surprised Yifan how Yixing's breath stuttered in his mouth and then he was pushing Yifan away.

"This," he panted, "feels so good."

Yifan laughed a small bit, agreeing utterly with the statement and then he was pulling back. His hips drawing out to push back into Yixing with a deep noise erupting from his throat as Yixing keened happily. The taller male pulled away from the smaller body to angle himself more, give more of an edge before he continued his slow but deep thrusts. Yixing's hand on his ass began to dig its nails in, a coax to go faster and Yifan found himself wanting to fuck into Yixing.

However, he knew that he'd hate himself afterwards. It was Yixing, things had to be perfect and good enough to make the younger happy. Because of that thought, he slowly picked up his pace but tried to retain the depth he'd been hitting within Yixing. He knew the younger would loosen up as they progressed, allowing him to reach the spot Yixing needed to cum. Yifan was aiming his rhythm to be a deep yet swift sling but Yixing seemed to change somewhat when they made eye contact.

"Fuck me faster," he whined, bending one of his knees to his chest to allow Yifan yet more access to his body. The elder's hand gripped under the knee offered to him and he used it to stabilise the thrusts that were suddenly coming swifter into Yixing, who was coming up to press their hips together harder.

They were both sighing, panting and moaning with every little movement and touch. Neither of them halting until Yixing cried out in relief; his prostate being struck dead-on its head. They continued on at that angle, each drag of Yifan's cock against Yixing's walls making them a little needier and Yixing was quickly jerking himself off, Yifan'd larger hand over his making him grip at himself to jerk harder.

He came with a frantic cry of Yifan's name, triggering the elder's release into the condom with him. There was nothing wrong with being covered in his own cum, Yifan deduced, but it would have felt so much better if it could drop out of Yixing.

He didn't let that thought linger as they caught their breaths, his pull out was as gentle as he could make it without flaring their oversensitivity. Yixing looked boneless as he laid out; his chest rising and falling quickly, skin rippling in red and eyes closed in his post orgasm bliss.

Yifan felt as though he struck gold, as if this was the end of his rainbow that had come after the storm.

I'm so in love with you, he thought and this time, allowed himself to say it aloud.

He couldn't believe his luck when Yixing stared him straight in the eye and smiled as he responded with a sweet, "I'm so in love with you too."

Yifan didn't mind that there weren't any explosions of fireworks to mark the occasion; only the warm light cast out from the candles in the lanterns that he would have released if he wasn't so worried about sealife choking on them. He could see Yixing in ways he had only ever dreamed of before; naked, beautiful and in love with him. There was nothing that could have stopped his happiness from dispelling the most part of his insecurities. Somebody loved him for who he was, loved him even though he could do leagues better and had trailed him across the world.

It was the first year of his life that he could start out his life surrounded in everything he wanted from life. Yixing was resting on his shoulder with a content smile on his face as they took in every detail they hadn't ever noticed before. Like the fact that Yixing had stray hairs all around his eyebrows, how there was a soft change in the tone of his lips and that there were speckles of gold in his eyes. It made Yifan sink in deeper, plunging him into that cold pool of unknown but then pulling him out into the warm sun of Yixing's body heat.

Maybe Yifan did hate winter but he couldn't ever hate everything it brought him.

 

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Yifan had his phone in his hands, trying to place the orange focus square over the from being transmitted to the screen from the camera. His gloves made it almost impossible to do so. Still, he persevered, as the image in front of him was all he had dreamed of for almost two years. It was when things started to work out that he smiled, managing to capture the scene.

Yixing was stood amongst the conifers, face angled up towards the sky as snowflakes drifted onto his cheeks to melt into small droplets on his skin and his eyes were closed. As silent as things were, with only the trees moving in the breeze as the soundtrack, Yifan could hear Yixing’s breaths coming out softly. The younger was wearing the Christmas sweater Yifan had decided to keep in the end, the fabric bunching up at his wrists and flowing to his midthigh. Those ridiculous bunny ears still resting on his head, matching the ones on the front of Yifan’s hat.

His camera made no noise as he took the photograph. The glowing golden of Yixing’s skin stood out amongst the greens, browns and crisp white. As he had always expected, Yixing’s invigorating scent surrounded them to the point that Yifan’s senses swam into it.

Yixing turned to look at him, his eyelashes tipped in snow that fluttered as he lifted his upper-lids. There was a serene look on his face and neither of them cared for the winter swirling around them.

He had found his freedom wreathed with endless forest and a gracefully handsome man.

Yifan fell, just like the snow. But, he knew then, that Yixing would always follow him into the evergreen.