A fast paced life was a given in the city, people rushed between one another with a consciousness of their own personal space but remain uncaring of others’ and cars jam in the streets as they try to take those unwilling to walk to their destinations. It could all be seen when everything bustled by the windows of cafes and restaurants where life slowed slightly. It was there that people took a breath before returning to the daily crush of work and home, businessmen and women stuck in ruts of paperwork and numbers and doctors topping up on coffee before heading out to their shifts. There were even parents, mothers surrounded by children and father’s keeping youngsters in line when they all arrived for cakes or cold drinks.
Yixing could see it all from where he sat, his fingers tapped on the wooden surface in front of him as his stomach twisted hungrily and he could feel everything moving freely around him. He checked the time on his phone before sighing slightly and laid his palms out flatly on the bare table before he cast his glance out to the street once more. Time seemed to go slowly as he waited and he jolted when a warm hand settled on his shoulder.
“Are you ready to order yet?” Jongdae, the barista who always worked Wednesday afternoons, queried softly while Yixing looked around to him.
“How long has it been?” Yixing asked instead, even though he knew the exact number of minutes that had passed since his arrival.
“Fifty-three minutes,” the worker told him with a sad smile, Yixing’s heart clenching at the knowledge that somebody else, too, had been keeping the time in the way he had. “Want me to get you your usual?”
Yixing nodded, picking up his phone and dialling the last called number in his contacts list and held the device to his ear. It didn’t even ring, there was a gentle beep and the automated voice service providers used to tell callers that the line wasn’t available. He placed his phone back to the table without leaving a message and placed his focus on watching Jongdae work his magic at the coffee machine, the Korean man obviously concentrated on getting the balance of flavours as accurate as he could in the cup. Yixing found it soothing to watch people work, the way their faces became serious and full of want to please whoever they were working for.
It wasn’t long until Minseok, another Korean man, appeared with a large grin on his face and Yixing’s food already served on a plate. Food was a loose term for the microwaved muffin, the one that had a gooey caramel centre and a white chocolate button that had melted on the top. The cake was the singular weekly treat Yixing gave himself, his mouth always watered at the sight of it and it was his biggest guilty pleasure to date. That and the ridiculously sweet drink Jongdae was concocting just for him.
The younger of the two baristas appeared just behind Minseok as he placed the plate on the table, the drink accompanied by a glass of water to wash away the sticky feeling sugary sweets always left in Yixing’s throat and on the backs of his teeth. He bowed his head in thanks and accepted the cup from Jongdae’s hands. They both stood there as Yixing lifted the warm drink to his lips but his phone began to vibrate on the table, the name popping up has Yixing almost throwing his drink back down on the saucer which had been offered to him.
“Baekhyun,” he greeted, his mouth smiled slightly and his eyes drifted down to the empty seat ahead of him.
"Hey Xing, I’m going to have to cancel on our coffee date. I know it’s our weekly thing but the guys are all meeting up to plan that vacation I was telling you about, so I’m going to head there," the voice came through the earpiece with a clarity that Yixing didn’t have to strain to hear. "I hope you weren’t waiting for me long. I saw your calls, I’ll make it up to you."
“No, it’s okay,” Yixing assured as he heard the two cafe workers mutter out their disapproval. “I was calling to say I couldn’t make it anyway, work has been a little ridiculous at the minute and I didn’t have the time to take.”
"Oh, that’s good then," Baekhyun was smiling on the other end of the phone, Yixing sensed it in his voice. “There’s always next week."
“Always,” Yixing nodded, even though the word tasted a little bitter on his tongue.
"I’ll see you at home later. I’m not sure what time I’ll be back, though, so don’t don’t wait up too long for me. Love you."
“Okay,” Yixing muttered as the disconnect tone cut him off. “Love you, too.”
He placed his phone in his shirt pocket, lifted the knife that had come on the plate with his muffin and cut the cake up with it.
“Please don’t say anything,” Yixing mumbled, knowing that his two friends would have a few comments to what they’d just witnessed.
“But it’s the seventh week in a row that he’s cancelled on you and that’s just these little lunch dates that we know of,” Minseok spoke as he sat down opposite him and Jongdae took his place beside Yixing. “You don’t have to lie about actually being here, it’s okay to get mad. He’s your boyfriend and he isn’t making the time for you.”
“Why are you saying it’s okay for him to bail out of all your plans when it clearly isn’t?”
“It’s easier than making him feel guilty for having fun and enjoying his life,” Yixing placed one of the chunks he had cut up into his mouth and chewed gently. “As long as he’s happy then I don’t mind.”
“Being selfless about your own happiness for the sake of a boyfriend only works when they reciprocate that sentiment.”
“This muffin tastes different, is there a new recipe?” Yixing switched topics, leaving Minseok to openly eye roll and Jongdae to make a whining noise in his throat.
“Yes,” Minseok muttered, “it’s got a whole lot of backbone in there to give you the courage to tell your boyfriend that you’re not happy with how he’s acting.”
Yixing ignored his friends as they went back to work, leaving the money for his food on the table and not giving it to the two of them personally to avoid any more talk about his relationship.
He left the cafe and walked slowly down the edge of the street, numerous bodies crashed into his as he walked down a few blocks to the book editing office he walked in. He sat down at his desk, looking at the large pile that had accumulated in his in-tray over his hour and fifteen-minute lunch break. He picked up the first manuscript and began to flick through it, read the prose and making suggested edits in his HB pencil in the margins.
He always read through the entire book first without making any notes, ensuring that the plot lined up and that he himself was drawn into the story before he even decided whether or not it was worth the corrections. There was always at least one ‘throw-out’ book on his desk, the one that was called in as a favour to one of the other editors in the department but was badly written by some women who thrived on childhood fantasy and bad metaphors to get her through forty-five thousand words of a diabolical plot. Yixing often sent them back to his chief with a clear red 'X' on them, a sign that he shouldn’t even give the title a glance.
He could lose himself in his work as an editor, especially when a manuscript landed on his desk that was well written, balanced and unique to anything he had read before. Those infrequent gems were the ones that had Yixing at his desk for hours on end as he drank through cups of coffee to keep himself alert enough to get through it from cover-less front to its cover-less back. He always longed for those on bad days, his imagination could run wild with the characters and he often forgot to take notes to send up to the head editor.
However, most of the first drafts he scoured through were mediocre, the kind that could be picked up in an airport, read on the plane and then forgotten about once the reader had returned home. Yixing was fully aware that once his revisions were made to the books, they would be a little more scintillating and memorable to the readers. That was always the mindset he went into his work with, 'how can I make this memorable for all the right reasons?'.
He loved watching an author evolve their work from something that would sell in the summer to a book that people would pick up over and over again until the pages began to fall from the spine. Those were satisfying to see the final manuscript of. He could rest easy knowing that the author had been given the direction their story needed and that they had the perfect title, too. Nevertheless, they were also the ones he was the most disappointed in when they weren’t given the right cover, the right printing paper, the right typeface or the right typesetting when they got bound; as that was often how people chose their books. Despite that common known saying.
He read through the first set of prints quickly, the fluffy teen-lit which should have never made it to his desk that he gave to his colleague a few tables away, and slowed as he got to the adult literature but still gave them away if they had specialist themes that one of his workmates could edit better than he could.
Yixing had a habit for when he found a line or section that stood out to him amongst the fog of words, he always printed it out and stuck it somewhere on his desk for him to look at if that part was cut from the final print. He had found something in the fifth draft he skimmed through, it struck a chord within him as he read it for the seventh time and left him thinking as his pencil tapped on the white paper.
'There are bridges in life that need to be burned, the ones shared with people who act without care or those who act with malicious intent. They groan under their own weight, covered with cracks that strike through the hearts of their foundations and crumble whenever the water gets too rough. It’s easy to spot those, the vicious and poisonous people who wear their malice outwardly as if they’re prepared to have all ties severed with.
There are bridges in life that remained pristine, joining two people together in a sanctity that stretched across the clear, crystalline water below. Those people are the ones to be cherished, to be the names that your mouth smiles around and who allow a flow of emotion to run back and forth unimpeded. They’re the family, the friends and sometimes the lovers you hold dearest. Those bridges are love.
There are bridges that appear rickety, the ones that look as though they shake when the wind blows too hard. They have weeds growing between the cracks, they crumble at the edges, but nowhere else, and they have weathered with time. They never fall, they stay perfect under the superficial shells around them. They are everlasting. Those are the people who come into life like a hurricane, the ones who appear to be the wrong thing for you in the beginning but then fill every gap you’ve been missing. They never let you drown.
There bridges that are riddled with concrete cancer beneath their veneer of perfection. They often fall on their own, metal twisting upwards and creating a beastly sculpture to destroy everything around them. They leave nothing to burn, only a gaping ruin in the heart of the riverbank and no sense of closure. They leave people drowning in the water, they take as many with them as they can until there’s nothing left at all. They are the baying wolves dressed up as gutless sheep.'
He mulled over that section for a while before he found the digital version of the piece on his company’s cloud server, he copied the part and sent it to the printer before he outlined it with three exclamation marks as his comment. Always a good sign for the head editor. Yixing read through the rest of the book and knew it was the bare bones of a story that could easily be a bestseller of given the right conditions to grow and expand. The ending left room for a sequel while being enough to easily cut the arc off without any pressure of a follow-up plot, it was perfect. The editor always loved books that ended with something readers would be happy with but not confused over if there was a series created from it. He made sure his pencil was sharpened before picking the piece apart with a fine-toothed comb.
Yixing only stopped working when one of his coworkers told him that he would miss his last train home if he were to stay any longer, to which he realised that time had gone too quickly and he picked the manuscript off his desk and slipped into his bag with a soft thud. He followed the other editors out to the street and followed the path to the subway station with them, even though he wasn’t too social with them. None of them got on his line, all of them turned off with small waves to him and Yixing got to his platform just as the last train was pulling up and he smiled in relief that he could get on without any worries with only the other late night workers in the carriage he got on.
He pulled out the earphones he had in his pocket and plucked out his phone from where he had put it in the cafe earlier that day, he tapped his fingers along to the beat of the song he was listening to and watched his own reflection in the glass opposite him. He looked a little dull, his clothes were wrinkled from the sitting at his desk for most of the day, his hair had gone slightly curly from the humid air outside and his eyes looked tired under the fluorescent lighting above his head.
Yixing got off at his station, shifting his bag around before he began the ten-minute walk to the apartment he shared with his boyfriend. The lock for their door always stuck and had to be jiggled before the key could be turned, it was a nuisance when the person opening it was too tired or drunk to remember. He took his shoes off, rolling his ankles slightly as he did so to hear a satisfying click before he put some slippers on, he headed straight to the kitchen and took some leftover takeout from the fridge to heat up in the microwave. Yixing took the stuff he had brought home from work out of his back and put it on his bed, leaving to get his food and eating it quickly over the bin before throwing the container out and getting in the shower.
The editor didn’t spend too much time out of the bathroom before he was under his duvet and working again, he didn’t stop until he finished looking over the very last word of the very last page. It was only then that he looked at the time on his phone, which he had plugged in to charge. It was getting close to 2AM and Baekhyun still wasn’t back. Though, given the hour, he would probably choose to stay with whichever of his friends lived closest to wherever he was. Yixing wished he could say something about how he wanted a little bit more attention from the younger or that he wanted to be able to get into a bed that already had somebody waiting for him in. He didn’t want any grand gestures, he just wanted to share the time he had with somebody else.
He curled around himself, holding his own knees up as he face outwards from the bed to not see how empty the other side was and he fell asleep like that. Quiet, alone and wishing for somebody to hold.
Even when he woke up the next morning, Baekhyun was nowhere to be seen and there was only a short text saying that he had stayed with a friend, like Yixing had expected, and was headed to work already. The editor put his phone in his bag, picked up some cereal bars for breakfast before he headed out again. He wasn’t shocked by the lack of presence in his apartment but he didn’t like that he was slowly getting used to it. When he and Baekhyun had moved in together, they had discussed how they would make the space their own but Yixing could only feel himself there, it was more like living alone again and he didn’t want that. He was just too scared to do anything to change it, he didn’t want to argue and make Baekhyun feel like he was being suffocated by the elder.
It wasn’t like he thought Baekhyun didn’t love him, he knew he did and Yixing reciprocated. Maybe they had just got to the point where outward affection had turned into fondness already, that the falling in love feeling had gone and that they were in that steady period every long term relationship hit. As he locked the door behind himself, he reassured himself of that. He and Baekhyun loved each other and their relationship was stable, that’s all that should matter to them both.
“I just sent it up to you,” Yixing spoke into the phone over the background noise of his office, “it should be there in about ten minutes.”
“And you’re sure that it should go to the boss,” the head editor’s assistant asked him and Yixing wanted to roll his eyes, he never sent something below par up to the main office.
"Trust me, it’s great,” Yixing tried to reassure the worried man on the other end. “She’s got it right this time. I think it could be a bestseller.”
"How close to certain are you, Mr Zhang?"
“About as certain as I can be without being certain,” Yixing smiled and the man laughed out slightly at the editor’s lack of willingness to be liable if the book were to be a complete flop in sales. “I’ve got some more manuscripts to check through before I go on lunch but tell the boss that my mobile is on if she wants to talk about the draft.”
"Sure, sure," the assistant hummed, "I’ll leave you to it then."
The line cut off without Yixing saying anything more but he wasn't too fussed about it, he was used to people not ending phone conversations without a goodbye or without letting him respond. He went to make himself a cup of coffee, topping up his caffeine dose and hoped that it would be enough to last him before he ran to Jongdae's café to pick up his daily lunchbox that his friends made.
Instant coffee wasn't his favourite to drink, it was always a little more on the bland side and Yixing never failed to have a small bottle of vanilla syrup in his desk drawer to give it a slightly sweeter taste. Given his drinking habits, he was surprised that he hadn't yet lost any of his teeth and that his dentist always told him how well his teeth appeared. He drank half the drink before he sat back down, which wasn't much out of the norm but he found himself staring at the coffee stained bottom of the mug all too quickly when he had gulped the rest of it down before setting his hands on his next book. It was a short story, a mere seven thousand words compared to the novel he had been working on for a week and Yixing was glad that it was one of their frequent submitters.
He could tell who it was from the opening paragraph, their style had remained identical in the two years that Yixing had been doing his job and the editor could see how the author had taken all the advice given to her in how her plots ran. There was a smoother transition from the opening to the rest of the book, it was a comfort for Yixing to be able to settle with familiarity for a short while as he wound down to get ready for lunch. He balanced his pen on his top lip as he scanned through the piece, searching for any obvious typos and mistakes until his phone's buzzer went off.
The signal for his lunch had him packing up, he scanned his eyes over the clock and left with his bag over one shoulder. It was a faster walk to the cafe, his feet worked by muscle memory and it wasn't too long before he opened the door and heard his name be called by Jongdae behind the counter.
"Lunch?" The Korean asked while his eyebrow raised slightly and Yixing nodded. "Min, grab Hyung's lunch from the fridge."
The other barista appeared thirty seconds later with a reusable box in his hands, Yixing wasn't entirely sure what was in it but he didn't mind too much, the two Korean men always seemed to know exactly what he would like whenever they experimented with their food. Yixing was often the person they tested their menu ideas out on, especially since they had been dabbling with the idea of doubling up as a restaurant.
"You might want some water, I don't know how salty it will be," Minseok warned, handing over a set of chopsticks in a plastic wrapper and Yixing nodded, lifting one of their water bottles out of the open refrigerator that held their soft drinks. He handed over the money for the food and the drink, smiling widely at his friends.
"Thank you guys, I'm sure I'll love this," Yixing could feel his dimple appear before he bowed his head in a quick goodbye, he left the cafe and turned in the opposite direction of the cafe to head towards the park that wasn't too far away.
Yixing liked eating alone there, it was a peaceful environment away from the warm smell of printer paper and stale coffee. There were benches everywhere but Yixing always went to the same one, it had a bin next to it and looked into some trees. In the spring and summer, the leaves acted as a barrier to the sound of the roads surrounding the park and there were few people in that direction of the park. It was autumn, so there only ever seemed to be dog walkers that Yixing encountered along the path, which wasn't a bad thing other than the odd animal taking an interest in what he was eating.
The editor nodded to the people he saw on a semi-regular basis, smiling softly at them and sometimes muttering a hello when he was close enough to them. He took his seat quickly, breaking the chopsticks out and throwing the casing away before he took the lid off the box. He looked at the noodles coated in a light brown sauce that he seemed unfamiliar with and dug the wooden utensils into them before he brought them up to his lips. He could tell what Minseok meant when he said he thought it would be salty, his mouth almost immediately dried up and he fumbled to open up his water.
He made a definitive note to tell the cafe owners to lay off the intense seasoning of the sauce, as he wasn't entirely sure he could get through the whole box without fearing dehydration. The editor tried to eat as much as he could before throwing the remaining third of the food in the bin, which was saddening as he wished he could eat more of it and he knew he would have to leave the park earlier to drop into a store to buy himself a snack to tide him over until dinner.
Yixing checked his phone, not seeing anything from Baekhyun there as the lockscreen opened up to show their message thread. He could see that the other had read his message but not replied, which wasn't an issue for Yixing; he was just as bad as replying. It was the fact that the previous messages of his had been read and not responded to which frustrated him. Not only did they barely communicate face to face, it was all one-sided on their phones and Yixing was quickly tiring when he would receive nothing back.
Yixing wiped his mouth as something ran at his legs and barked loudly, he yelped and brought his knees up his chest in fear of what had touched him. He knew it was a dog, he was just unsure of the intentions the animal had in running at him. The editor relaxed slightly as he spied the lead trailing from beneath the bench and he sighed out happily when he saw a poodle attached to it. It was the small kind, the ones that were fluffy and made snuffling noises when they were excited. He bent down and held out his hand, smiling slightly as a wet nose bumped into his palm and quickly moved to show that he wanted to be petted.
"Oh my god," a voice from a few metres away cried out in relief, "Rourou, what are you doing? I am so sorry. He didn't try to hump your leg or anything, right?"
Yixing looked up to see the man, he couldn't pinpoint any specific features on his face because of how brightly the sun was shining behind him but it was obvious that the man was tall. Far taller than anybody Yixing had encountered.
"Uh no," he shook his head honestly. "Should I be insulted that he didn't try to?"
"Heavens no, he is the definition of a horny dog. He, Rourou, would never let you go," the man awkwardly laughed. "I've had him for under a year but I can tell that this phase is going to haunt me."
"Well, you can rest easy tonight. He did not try to defile any part of my body, all I've had is a wet nose to the hand," he raised up his left palm with the intention of proving his theory and the man seemed to sag down in relief.
"I'm glad," the man moved slightly and Yixing's eyes followed him, still finding it difficult to take in the appearance of the stranger as the light softened.
Yixing wished he could see the tall male, he could make out some of his darker features like where his browline was and where his mouth sat beneath where Yixing guessed his nose was. That was all, it was a struggle for Yixing to place the man.
"Maybe you should keep him on a shorter leash if he has that habit?" Yixing suggested whilst his dimple politely revealed itself to the man and he watched as the stranger's gaze flitted to it to linger there for a couple of seconds before returning to his eyes.
"I do normally but I accidentally clicked the elongate button and suddenly he was off," the man awkwardly scratched the back of his neck and Yixing couldn't help but smile.
"It's a good job no harm was done then."
"I agree. I'm Wu Yifan, by the way."
Yixing held out his hand for the other to shake, "I'm Zhang Yixing."
"It's nice to meet you. I walk through here sometimes and see you eating your lunch, it's good to put a name to a face."
"Consider this face fully named," Yixing nodded, lifting his bag up from the floor and he stuffed the plastic lunch container into it and throwing the chopsticks away. "I'll see you around, Yifan."
"I'll come over and say hi when I'm next here."
"Do that, I'd like that," Yixing nodded, his stomach bubbled with something foreign but he ignored it, he placed it down to the salty food he'd just eaten. "I'll get going, work beckons me." The editor bent down onto his knees and scratched the small dog's head. "I'll see you too, Rourou. Don't go chasing after too many legs, you'll drive your owner insane."
Yixing rose back up and waved awkwardly at the man as he passed, beelining straight for the park exit and back into the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city. He made sure to stop off at one of the convenience stores along the way, collected refrigerated coffee and a few snacks he could put in his drawer at his desk. He left smiling, thinking about the man with the cute dog in the park.
The editor hadn't realised how flustered the man seemed when his dog had run off until he sat down in his chair and looked at the dwindling pile of manuscripts on his workspace. Yifan had appeared out of breath and Yixing was sure there would have been a blush to his cheeks, had he been able to see them. The vision of such a tall man chasing a poodle through the park had him huffing out laughter as he worked, especially given that Yifan was worried that his dog would try to get it on with somebody's leg. Yixing found himself grinning as he worked for the first time in a while because of a complete stranger.
Yixing worked hard for the rest of the afternoon, his pencil running through his work at an incredible pace and before he knew it, his short story had been completed. There were no dramatic and needless plot twists at the end, something many unpublished authors thought they had to do to make their work different from the rest of the market. He felt relieved that he could send something up to the head editor of short stories, rather than straight back to the author with a list of mistakes to correct. He placed it inside one of the large envelopes that were on his desk and decided that he could read the freshly printed pieces on his desk and find the ones to edit before he went back to work the next morning.
He smiled for most of the day, enjoying listening to the gentle banter of his colleagues as they all worked on their books online. He would often get screenshots sent to him through their IM system of sections that were embarrassing, especially from the group who specialised in erotica. They often complained that a certain book series had led to the increase of poorly written books by women who were still stuck in their unrealistic fantasies, it made their job far less exciting than any of them thought it would ever be.
Yixing was genuinely glad that he got the dregs of the barrel, the ones where the author didn't explicitly explain the genre in their cover letter or their agent wasn't entirely sure what to describe it as. That made his work exciting, it allowed him to look forward to something new every day.
And having your day made by a flustered dog owner wasn't a bad mix for working hard, most people worked better when their spirits were lifted and Yixing meeting a foot tall poodle had seemed to have done the trick. He was no longer lingering on the lack of communication between him and Baekhyun, he thought about how such a strikingly tall man could have let a dog give him the runaround. Quite literally.
The editor smiled the whole way home, still flicking through the last piece of the day, and it only faded as his entrance went unacknowledged. He couldn't hear anybody in the rooms or the water running past in the pipes, it was completely silent. Save for the music his neighbour played to send her baby off to sleep. Yixing locked the door behind himself and went straight to the kitchen once his shoes had been exchanged for slippers. He saw a box of chicken out on the counter with a post-it stuck on it. He lifted the yellow paper off and red over the scrawled message.
'I hope this helps you today ^^ I will see you soon. B'
Yixing wished that his daily conversations with his boyfriend weren't just limited to a few words on a piece of paper. He wanted to be able to sit down with the other and talk about his day while they ate together, how they used to when they had first moved in together. However, he knew Baekhyun was a social butterfly. He thrived on interacting with new people and numerous faces in the day, he had a large cohort of people in his pocket that he spent his time circulating around and Yixing was often told that he was lucky to have found somebody so animated all the time.
Baekhyun was somebody who tried to consider everybody all at once, meaning that he often had to shift his priorities to accommodate whoever he had been missing out on at that time. He split his social life and his working hours in a way that meant that Yixing was left alone, which hadn't been a bad thing in the beginning. They had both worried that living together in such a small apartment would have caused unnecessary friction in the beginning and, if there was anything Yixing hated more than being alone, it was being engaged in conflict. He didn't want to argue, he wanted to be a positive point in his boyfriend's life then he accepted what it took to make Baekhyun happy.
If that meant only coming home for a couple of nights in the week, Yixing would readily take what he was given.
A few days passed with blustery rain and horrible winds, meaning that Yixing was stuck in his office for his lunch break until it all blew over. He hadn't even bothered to try and go to Jongdae's cafe with the weather in such a state, he knew that his clothes would have remained soaked through for the rest of the day and a cup of brilliantly made coffee wasn't worth the high risk of flu. No matter how much had begun to loathe instant coffee.
He had even begun to lose a little motivation with his work worrying about his two friends worrying about him and having the concern that Baekhyun had left his coat at home on the hook it rested on. Yixing had sent the younger a text with a wish of him staying dry and warm until the weather front moved on, which he actually got a reply to when Baekhyun stated that he'd bought another coat from the shop across the street from where he worked. Yixing had felt relief prickle through his body once he'd read it and went straight back to work.
The editor decided to let himself off a little earlier that day, given that it was a Friday and Yixing's boss had told him that he would be made a lead editor on one of the manuscripts he had sent up during the week.
He bit his lip as he braved the rain in search for Jondgae's cafe, seeing as it was right by one of the subway stations he could use to head home. He dashed through the rain, only stopping when something of a chocolate brown colour ran out in front of him and he stumbled to a halt to avoid colliding with it. He found his feet winding backwards as he tried to right his balance, only coming to a full stop when hands clutched at his elbows.
"God, are you okay?" The man worried but Yixing didn't look up at him, his eyes remained on the small creature that was staring up at him with beady eyes.
"You know," Yixing laughed gently, "I’m going to start thinking that you're setting your dog on me on purpose."
"Huh?" The man responded dumbly until Yixing looked up from under his hood with a smile. "Oh god, Yixing, right? From the park the other day?"
"In the flesh," the editor beamed and the man looked horrified that his dog had gone for the same person twice. "He must really like me."
"Your dog," Yixing pointed at the creature, finding it adorable how the creature seemed to flick his gaze from the newcomer to his owner every few seconds as a sign of tracking progress.
"Ah yes, Rourou does seem to have taken to you." Yifan nodded, tugging the small poodle back to his side and they moved out of Yixing's path slightly. "You seemed to have been in a rush, I won't keep you any longer."
"Oh no, I'm not headed to anywhere in particular. I was just running to get out of the rain and duck into a cafe that my friends have around the corner."
"And this little guy has just prolonged your journey, right?"
"No, no, really, I am in no rush."
"Which direction are you going in then?" Yifan asked him, looking up and down the road under the umbrella he was holding.
"Down this street," Yixing pointed in the direction that he had previously been moving in and Yifan took a step forward.
"We'll walk with you then." Yifan stayed in line with Yixing and wanted to coo when he heard the slight clicking of Rourou's claws on the pavement. "How was your day, Yixing?"
"It was really great, actually," Yixing found himself looking up to Yifan with a content smile and the taller nodded his head to urge him on. "The actual work was pretty slow but I was told that I got a promotion, though."
"Are you serious? How are you going to celebrate?"
"I was actually just going to go home and catch an early night. My other half won't be home, so it will just be me in," Yixing bit his lip as Yifan shook his head, the tall male grinning from ear to ear and Yixing found it endearing how the other got excited over the good news a stranger had.
"You can't spend such a day alone with news like this, you need to celebrate in some way."
"An early night is a celebration," Yixing argued and the dog walker shot him a look.
"Why don't you let me take you out for dinner? My treat."
"I shouldn't," Yixing shook his head.
"I'm in a relationship."
"I didn't ask you to marry me, I just said dinner to congratulate you on something I am sure is well deserved," Yifan retorted easily, his voice carrying happily into Yixing's ears.
Yixing looked down at the pavement semi-bashfully, "But I don't know you."
"That's what the dinner is for, getting to know each other and making sure you have a great day, even when you're without your other half. How else would you make new friends if you don't spend time with new people?"
"I guess so," Yixing nodded, accepting the other's request shyly and Yifan smiled at him. It wasn't anything large or overbearing, it was more genuine and small. A symbol of a little victory. "I'll have to go home and change then."
"More than fine with me, I need to drop the little guy off at home first, too," Yifan shook his leash at that moment, causing the pup to look up at him with a small yip. "I'll meet you at the subway station that's coming up next at like half six, it's not too late then and you can still get your early night."
Yixing mulled the idea over in his mind before nodding his head, "Okay, that sounds like an idea I can be on board for."
"Great, I'll see you later for dinner then," Yifan gave one short wave with two fingers before turning away and crossing the road.
It left Yixing a little dumbstruck as he watched the tall male and his dog disappear into the city crowds, he wasn't quite sure how it all happened so suddenly but he had managed to get both a promotion and company for dinner all on the same day. He was baffled, strangely happy but definitely baffled.
Yixing wasn’t entirely sure what Yifan’s agenda was, they’d only just met and yet the other was treating him as if he were a close friend. Not that Yixing didn’t like it, he found himself being drawn to the warmth of a caring personality constantly. It was why Yixing had Jongdae and Minseok in his life, and Baekhyun too, because they had all cared so deeply about him from almost the moment they met. The editor tried to push the idea that Baekhyun’s care wasn’t as steadfast as his two best friends’ out of his mind, as he knew that it wasn’t true. Baekhyun did love him, he just loved life an equal amount. Not that doing so was a bad thing, as Yixing wanted everybody to be happy and to be able to enjoy themselves day in, day out.
(But maybe Yixing wanted to be the person Baekhyun did that with)
He managed to make his way home on the subway, take a warm shower and drink dissolving decongestant before he changed to ward off the onset of a cold from the walking he had done outdoors. Yixing found himself fretting over his wardrobe choices for the evening. With no idea what to wear, where they were going and what they would be eating, he was almost completely lost with the combinations he had plucked out of his racks.
It was strange how his apartment seemed fit for one person, not a cohabiting couple. It was a cosy place with small box rooms and an old kitchen but it was only supposed to be a stepping stone home for Baekhyun and Yixing, one that they lived in to save up for something a little more spacious later on, something to put their own mark on. But three years down the line, there had been no talk of apartment finding or even saving money for that pipedream.
He didn’t let those thoughts linger either as he finally picked out his clothes, changed into them and sorted his wet hair. There was even a hint of makeup on his cheeks where he covered small blemishes with CC cream and lifted his eyes with a little bit of eyeliner until he felt presentable for dinner anywhere. Yixing hoped with all his might that the evening would go well for him, it was supposed to be a celebration after all. Even if it was with a stranger.
Yixing made his way back to where he had bumped into Yifan and his dog earlier that day with an umbrella in hand, it was far less busy with the rain having reduced down to a drizzle and the rushing to get home had subsided almost completely. It left people like Yixing, those going to meet people, to be the ones who occupied train seating and pathways. Yixing was aware and almost shying away from everybody he saw, just in case he knew them.
In actuality, he knew there was no harm in meeting new people or going out for dinner with those who he wasn't in a relationship with but there was something he felt in his stomach. It was something he wanted to suppress and yet it stayed. It was a sense of slight betrayal, that he was doing something behind Baekhyun's back that he shouldn't be.
That led to Yixing pulling out his phone and typing up a message to his boyfriend that outlined him meeting a new friend and that he was going out for dinner that night, so Baekhyun shouldn't worry if Yixing wasn't there when he got back to the apartment but also that Yixing would not be out for too long. Especially since it was likely that Baekhyun would arrive at the apartment early in the morning and Yixing didn’t want to miss seeing him there.
Yixing read the message back, a part of him told his brain that it was a little over-explanatory, that he could just say 'Going out for dinner, be back later’ and so he backtracked everything and put that instead. There was no lie in what he had been writing, he hadn't planned on staying out the night with Yifan and that certainly helped to soothe the small hell raging inside of him.
When he saw Yifan waiting for him in an all black, neat ensemble of a pressed shirt and well-fitted jeans and Yifan saw him, that seemed to make a smile cross onto the tall stranger's face, Yixing felt guilty. Not for Baekhyun but for thinking almost lowly of the new yet seemingly genuine person. Yifan hadn't flirted or acted outside of what Yixing could expect from somebody with the want to get to know new people, it was Yixing that had turned things inappropriate in his mind. With the previous worries expelled from his stomach, Yixing let himself smile and dimple at Yifan as he approached in the fine rain.
Yixing’s breath caught in his throat when he finally got a look at Yifan for the first time. The tall man had well-defined features, ones that were sharp but Yixing could see how they softened as the man beamed at him. Yifan’s skin was clear and smooth, the shave on his chin was as close as it could be and Yixing had the urge to run his fingers along Yifan’s prominent jaw to feel it. His eyes were protected by dark and thickly shaped brows but that did nothing to detract from how his curved eyelids made for almond shaped eyes. They were set in a deep brown shade that Yixing knew must have been concocted of hundreds of different tones as they changed shade with every small movement the man made. Yixing was blown away.
Yifan looked otherworldly, his face was completely in proportion but not in the generic way that went with a lot of symmetrical appearing faces, it was unique and Yixing hadn’t ever seen anything like it before. He was dumbstruck with a warm feeling in his chest as he studied Yifan as best as he could.
"I see you have an umbrella this time, good choice," Yifan noted in greeting, gesturing with a loose wrist at the object in the smaller's hand. "I booked us a restaurant not too far from here, so we shouldn't get too wet."
"May I know where we are going?" Yixing enquired and Yifan's lip quirked up at the side, along with his left eyebrow. "What?"
"That sounded really formal," the other said, "and you don't have to be formal with me. You can relax a little, this is supposed to be a celebration for you. And I would tell you if I could remember the name of the restaurant but I really can't, I'll just have to show you when we get there."
"I take it you don't go there often then?" Yixing tried to pry, hoping that Yifan would take the bait and smiled widely when he did.
"I've been a few times but mainly with clients and even then my assistant is the one who books it." Yifan took Yixing's arm by the arm in a light clasp to guide him down the street, it wasn't an intimate gesture like a palm to the back and it wasn't commanding like a grip to the wrist. The entire thing felt guiding and Yixing suspected that Yifan did such things often with how confident the action was.
"Clients?" Yixing pushed gently.
"I'm an art buyer. Artists commission me to sell their work or people who want art get me to find art for them."
Yixing was pleasantly surprised by the response, he had expected Yifan to say that he was a lawyer or that he worked in one of the glass high-rises in the city centre with how he looked and the way he dressed. Each time Yixing had seen him, he looked well put together like one would expect a businessman to.
"I didn't expect that," Yixing admitted, his arm relaxing in the other's hold, "but that does sound really interesting."
"Really? A lot of people think it sounds pretentious," Yifan laughed out in a deep chuckle that made Yixing smile automatically in reaction.
"Well, I work for a publishing house. So people tend to think I'm a uppity literature major who reads foreign poetry in his spare time because 'it connects more to the soul in Italian'. I get the whole instant turgid notion people have."
Yifan smiled and Yixing watched how his cheeks rose under his eyes, "I'm glad you get it."
They didn't say anything more as they rounded a street corner and Yifan guided him into a restaurant that was brightly lit with overhanging bulbs, large mirrors and pieces of coloured glass that were moulded into ornaments. It felt fresh to walk into and Yixing was glad that there was no fear of mood lighting confusing the tone of the evening. Yixing could tell why Yifan, an art buyer, would take clients to place like that, it screamed out a sense of modernity but the colour scheme made it seem completely friendly.
Yixing was glad to see groups of businessmen, families and evidently well-off teenagers littered around and filling the tables. It wasn't a place for a date and that had his shoulders relaxing until they hung as freely as they normally did. Yifan wasn't trying to woo Yixing or show off, he was keeping to his word of it being a friendly dinner.
The waiting staff showed them to their seats while Yixing's eyes frantically scanned the drinks menu, he tried taking in as much of the food one that he could shortly after. Yifan appeared comfortable with ordering a bottle of beer and his food swiftly, he then engaged the server with light chatter about whether or not it had been busy since his last visit and Yixing was thankful for the stalling technique. Yifan's eyes kept darting towards Yixing and he smoothly closed off the conversation when Yixing had placed the menus back onto the table and the waiter turned to him with a polite regard. The editor reeled off his order and left the two of them to place their requests to the kitchen.
"So, tell me about what you do," Yifan leant forward and Yixing could feel his attentiveness radiating from his eyes.
"Uh," Yixing fumbled. "It's interesting, to say the least. It's mainly ploughing through books and drafts of badly written prose with cliché or weak plots and having to let down writers who clearly spent a lot of time on their work because the publishing house doesn't want to release their work. It's quite hard sometimes actually. Having to tell people that what they slaved over isn't good enough, that is."
"Is celebrating your promotion a bad thing then?"
"Oh no, it's actually a really great thing. There's this writer and she has been trying to get published for a long while now, probably since before I joined the company, and I've been the one going through her work for the past two years. She's one of the only writers who seems to heed the corrections I make or persistently try to get her work out there and finally was able to send some of her work to my boss and she loved it. Now I'm going to be editing this writer's work to print, which I've never done before, and the author apparently told my boss that I've been guiding her brilliantly."
"She sang your praises and you got a promotion?" Yifan asked as if such a thing was unbelievable.
"Pretty much, but I'm now like her personal editor, you know the ones you expect authors to have. All her work will come to me for me to exclusively go through and we'll work together throughout her writing period, rather than me just getting a massive document to rifle through at the end."
"You'll only work with her then?"
Yixing shook his head, smiling up at the waiter as he brought their drinks and food over, "I can if I want but I don't think that will pay enough yet, so I can take some other projects on and keep working while she's writing."
Yifan took a sip of his beer, nodding his head in understanding, "I see, do you get a genre to go through or is it a 'take what you're given' atmosphere?"
"There are departments that specialise in certain genres but if there aren't enough or there is too much, you do what you're given," Yixing explained as he took up his chopsticks to begin eating his food. "The departments only tend to matter for publishing and marketing, as those editors have to know their work well enough to advise for target markets and things like that."
"That makes sense," Yifan agreed, following Yixing's heed in beginning his meal.
"What's it like being an art buyer?" Yixing's voice was quieter than he had expected it to be but Yifan heard him over the cheerful noise around them.
"It's fun but hard and a little morbid at times."
"Morbid?" Yixing questioned, thinking he had misheard the other.
Yifan nodded, he chewed on his food before he responded to the query. "A lot of my clients who aren't artists or curators, the ones who want to build their private collections, want pieces by artists who are up-and-coming because then you don't pay too much for work while not sacrificing quality. It's then my job to explain that the real value of an artist's work only really tends to go up in price after they've died, as they're not producing any more work and that makes everything limited edition," Yifan paused for a moment, showing Yixing that he was choosing his next words as carefully as he could. "I've often had clients who have asked for work by artists who are older, the artists who have had years to perfect their style but have only focused on their creative once they retired or something."
"Just because they're closer to dying?" Yixing baulked, his eyes wide and empty mouth hung open in disgusted shock.
"Pretty much. I mean I can see why they would want to do such a thing from a business perspective; those artists are top quality and they'll have less work out there than lifetime artists. It's a good long-term investment to make. But morally? It's the worst part of the job. I can't believe that sometimes these people wish another person dead to get more money from it. I try to work for people who want art because they love art but that's often not where the money lies."
"That's horrible," Yixing agreed and he could see how Yifan's posture had changed slightly after telling him that. "But it's not like you're the one thinking that way."
"I know," Yifan perked up a little. "I think it is just strange that some people in this world are really like that."
The excerpt from the book he had edited popped up in his mind as he looked Yifan over and smiled gently, "They're not the people to surround yourself with, let those bridges burn once they're done."
They didn't say anything more about it as the conversation shifted and Yixing found himself laughing with Yifan for the rest of the dinner because they seemed to share the same sense of humour. Yixing could feel his guard shifting a little as a result of that and found comfort in the fact that nothing about the dinner felt anything like a date. The biggest sign of that was when they wordlessly split the bill, neither of them swooped in to foot the total and that helped to lessen the guilty burden on Yixing's shoulders to nothing. He was happy that Yifan's earlier words of the dinner being his treat weren't acted upon.
Yifan walked him back to the entrance of his subway station and their laughter seemed to echo down the streets.
"I better get back to my dog," Yifan looked down at his watch.
Yixing took his phone out and clicked the home button to light the screen up, which displayed a message from the contact '伯賢' and Yixing could see that Yifan had seen it. He didn't open the text but instead unlocked the device and opened up the onscreen keypad.
"You can put your number in, if you want?" Yixing bit his lip and ignored the part of him that told him that he looked hopeful in a misleading way.
Yifan didn't say anything about that as he nodded his head and tapped the digits in before handing the phone back to Yixing. The owner of the device looked at the new contact made and smiled when he saw the name, '凡凡'.
"'Fanfan'? Are you trying to be cute?"
"Was it successful?"
Yixing laughed and slipped his phone back into his pocket, "A little."
"I really should go, Rourou needs to be walked before I go to sleep," Yixing could see that Yifan didn't exactly want to leave but Yixing understood, he had to head home or he would miss the last train.
"I'll talk to you soon," Yixing didn't know how to go about saying goodbye, so he settled for an awkward wave that Yifan returned before taking a step away from the shorter. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Yixing," Yifan smiled to him and the younger returned it before heading into the station. He didn't look back but clutched his phone tightly in his hand. He thought about Yifan on his journey home and how friendly he was without overstepping any kind of mark.
Yixing didn't know what he was so worried about.
The editor messaged the number Yifan had given him a short thank you in the morning after their dinner, he didn't expect a reply anytime soon so his phone had been put into the bottom of his bag while Baekhyun made the two of them breakfast in the kitchen. The previous night had seen Yixing getting into the flat just before Baekhyun had arrived home but not much conversation was had between them, Yixing could read the tiredness on Baekhyun's features as soon as he saw the other.
"Hyung, the food is done," he heard Baekhyun test out in clumsily accented Chinese.
"I'll be there in a moment," Yixing responded in more confident Korean, not wanting to stress Baekhyun out with translating the words in his head.
Despite living in China for almost five years, Baekhyun hadn't had to learn much of the language because he worked far an international business that used mainly English or Korean. Yixing hadn't minded, as he had taken a Korean language course during his years in university, one that was aided by Jongdae and Minseok. He could see that Baekhyun was trying with the language, especially having only gotten by with the basics of the language he'd learned through his company and his more fluent English. Baekhyun was readying himself to stay in China for the long term, it seemed.
Baekhyun was placing the food on their small table when Yixing walked out into the kitchen, "How's work?"
"Oh, I got promoted," Yixing smiled brightly and Baekhyun's posture changed to one of surprise.
"Why didn't you call? We need to celebrate," the Korean almost shouted out in happiness.
"I didn't want to disturb and it's okay, that's what the dinner last night was for," Yixing dismissed and Baekhyun nodded, still smiling as they slipped back into Korean.
"That doesn't mean we can't still celebrate ourselves," the younger sat down opposite Yixing and dug into the food he'd made. "We'll do something tomorrow, what do you want to do?"
Yixing thought for a moment, considering what he'd really want to do with his boyfriend to celebrate. "Can we just stay in? Watch films, eat popcorn and drink cheap beer, that kind of thing?"
"Like we did when we first moved in together?"
"Yeah," Yixing nodded and Baekhyun agreed, saying he would like to do that.
Yixing finished up his food as Baekhyun filled him in on what was happening in his life and Yixing interjected whenever the conversation needed him to but he always quickly tired of hearing about Baekhyun's friends. Yixing didn't really know them and felt bad for the negative feelings he felt towards them, he felt awfully judgemental. Even though all of his friends seemed a little too loud for Yixing's tastes. He already had Jongdae and Baekhyun, and sometimes even Minseok, for noise.
They left the apartment together but split off at the subway station to go in their opposing directions, Yixing smiled widely as he was set to meet up with Jongdae and Minseok. He was looking forward to his Sunday more than anything.
Yixing looked at the clock on the wall of his living room, it was creeping up to midday and Baekhyun still wasn't home for their movie day. The editor reached for his one on the coffee table and saw no contact from Baekhyun at all but as he was about to set it back down, it vibrated in his hand and he immediately slid the newly received message across the screen.
What are you doing today?
Yixing didn't linger on the fact that he wasn't disappointed that it wasn't his boyfriend contacting but it was the first time since Yixing's thank you message that he had heard from Yifan, though he guessed that new friends didn't need to text each other constantly.
I was supposed to have a movie day with my boyfriend but I don't think he's able to come, you?
That's such a shame, are you ok? I'm having a lazy day in bed with Rourou
Yixing's phone made a dull, shorter vibrating noise as a photo came through of a body under a duvet but the main subject of the image was the small poodle curled up on the lap of the human with his eyes open and mouth just as wide to show his tongue.
Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little bored now. :/
Why do you have such a cute dog? (╯°□°)╯︵┻━┻ It's so unfair
The next message was another from Yifan, a shot of the dog sat on the other side of the large bed on his hind legs, doing the classic 'beg' pose.
RouRou wants to know if you want to meet up?
What does he want to do?
Are you that boring that your dog would rather go to lunch with me than you?
I am offended!
But he needs to know soon so he can start getting ready
Yixing laughed a little at the other's reaction but decided that getting lunch wasn't so much of a bad option, seeing as Baekhyun was already two and a half hours late to their arranged starting time.
Tell me where and I'll be there
That one message was how Yixing found himself at an apartment building on a rainy but busy street, he pressed the buzzer for the number Yifan had given him when he was at the door and waited patiently for the lock on the front to click and let him in. He walked through the building, past the man who seemed to be a singular security guard and up to the elevator. His hand held his phone, his palms had gone a little sweaty with the fear that Baekhyun would call and ask where he was but the longer his phone remained silent the more he relaxed in the elevator.
He stepped out of the metal compartment when it had reached the floor he'd been told to get out at and looked down the short corridor to see if he could find the number of the apartment Yifan had given him. He could hear the yips of a small dog before he even got to the door and he smiled as he knocked on the wooden surface, there was barely any time before footsteps and the skittering of claws on hard flooring was heard on the other side.
Yixing was clutching to his phone by the time Yifan appeared on the other side of the opened door in just a t-shirt and jeans, the most casual thing Yixing had ever seen him in. He could see the poodle peeking around its owner's legs and wanted to coo over how wide his eyes looked as he stared up at the newcomer.
"Hey, come in," Yifan greeted, moving out of Yixing's way to invite him in and Yixing shuffled past the threshold, removing his wet jacket and shoes then sliding his feet into the slippers Yifan said were for guests.
The editor bent down to the floor when Rourou approached him, he held out his hand for the dog to smell it and only petted his head once he had moved even closer. Yixing could see Yifan down the hallway from where he was crouched, the tall male appeared to be in the kitchen and Yixing gave the poodle one last ruffle of his fur before standing to approach its owner.
"I thought we could stay here for lunch," Yifan looked over his shoulder to say and Yixing nodded. "The weather is still pretty bad and this seemed like a better idea than going out in the rain. I hope that's okay with you?"
"I planned to stay indoors all day, it's more than fine with me," Yixing nodded, slowly pulling out a stool that lined a breakfast bar to watch Yifan open and close different cupboards to pull out various cooking utensils.
It was then that he finally left his phone on the table, freeing up both his hands to lean on. He took his host's momentary distraction to look around the apartment and take in how it was probably twice the size of the one he shared with Baekhyun but didn't suggest that Yifan was excessively more wealthy than Yixing was. In fact, the place looked modest and the kind Yixing had wanted for Baekhyun and himself. It was modern but not cold, there was art almost everywhere. From paintings on the walls, sculptures on desks and the fixtures were utterly unique.
Everything was uniformly placed but that just spoke of neatness and not disuse, the apartment looked lived in with it's slightly marked doors and skirting boards. Yixing could see how often Yifan opened and closed his cupboards given that a few of them had lost their soft-close abilities that showed when they shut slightly harder than the rest.
"What are we having, chef?" Yixing asked once his eyes had made their way back around to Yifan and the man in question looked at the countertop in front of him.
"I was just going to make egg drop soup as I do my weekly shop on Mondays and I am reaching the dregs of what I have," Yifan admitted while looking mildly sheepish, which Yixing found slightly entertaining as he watched the other continue to chop up the different ingredients. "I would have done something a little more extravagant if this was planned."
"Egg drop soup sounds good to me," Yixing licked his lips at the end of his sentence to accent that he was okay with it and Yifan let out a short laugh.
"I do have some noodles somewhere here if you want me to cook them and we can have those, too?"
"That does sound a little tempting and like a throwback to my days in university," Yixing acknowledged quietly in an affirmative tone.
"It sounds like you were eating better than I was in school," Yifan huffed then went into a deep dialogue about how he would survive for days on dried curried noodles his mother would mail him from where she lived in Canada. Yixing found himself giggling at how Yifan made it out like it was some sort of war story. Yixing was surprised he didn't end it with a dramatic: 'You don't know, man... You weren't there...'
"Are you always this hyperbolic?"
"This is not hyperbole, Zhang Yixing, this is how it really happened," Yifan whined while he poured whisked eggs into the soup he was also stirring. "I weighed like 4 kilogrammes."
"What you did just then, that's the definition of hyperbole."
"Details, Mr Zhang, details," Yifan dismissed with a roll of his eyes. "And anyway, what would you know about writing devices?"
"Are we friends enough for me to throw a slipper at you?" Yixing asked deviously, already taking the soft item from his socked foot and he could see Yifan debating his head how he could respond without causing offence.
By the time he was ready to open his mouth, Yixing had already thrown the slipper and Yifan looked at him with wide eyes.
"How dare you... Abused like this in my own home... Rourou, attack, protect your baba," Yifan wailed and Yixing turned to look at how the dog was laid out across the floor and wasn't making any movement to do anything that Yifan had said. "Ugh, the disrespect."
"I don't think your dog cares," Yixing laughed in a dramatic stage whisper and the slipper he had lost was promptly thrown back at him.
"You shouldn't assault your chef while he's cooking food for you."
"You'll be wearing it rather than eating it," Yifan warned and Yixing could only laugh at the sight of Yifan using a stirring spoon as a pointer like an overly dramatic mother.
Yixing didn't respond but smiled hard enough for his cheeks to ache, it was a strange feeling to feel so welcomed by somebody in a home he had never been into before but it was comfortable to sit and play around with Yifan like that. Yixing could tell that he had made a good friend in Yifan already. He liked how warm the other was and how he was almost dorky with how he acted, it revealed i how comfortable he was in his own home and how he seemed to show that off to Yixing.
They ate in silence once the noodles were made without anything being awkward, which was something Yixing hadn't experienced with somebody in a long time because there was something different about eating quietly alone because there was nobody to talk to and eating without speaking because nothing had to be said. There was the odd snuffling sound from the dog that made Yixing smile but nothing was said about it, as it was probably the norm for Yifan.
"Do you want me to wash the dishes?" Yixing offered through politeness, almost knowing that nobody ever agreed.
Yifan's face was deadpan when he flatly said: "Yes."
"Oh," Yixing's face dropped and three seconds passed before Yifan burst out into laughter that made his entire face scrunch up.
"I'm only kidding, I can put it all in the dishwasher in a minute," the taller reassured Yixing. "I only wanted to see how you reacted."
Yixing rolled his eyes and huffed out like a small child in silent protest of how he had been played by the other when usually he was the one with the more sarcastic and witty streak. It felt good, though, to be able to joke around. Yixing had almost missed how it felt in between Baekhyun's absence and the pity he received from his two closest friends.
The editor stood up from his stool and followed Yifan's lead of placing the dirtied items into the dishwasher.
"May I use your bathroom?"
"Uh, yeah," Yifan nodded and pointed to where the living room syphoned off into a short corridor, "Second door on the left."
Yixing followed the instructions when he came to an intersection of four doors, he guessed that at least two of them would be bedrooms and the other could be a store cupboard. Not being one to pry, Yixing didn't open any of the doors apart from the one he was signalled to.
After sorting himself out, Yixing washed his hands and wiped them on the towel that hung next to the sink. He headed out the door to see Yifan playing around with Rourou on the floor. Yifan looked up at him before pointing to the phone that Yixing had put on the table, "Somebody called BuoXian has been calling you."
Yixing jogged over to where Yifan had gestured and clicked his phone to see the phone light up to display that he had three missed calls from '伯賢', he slid the notification across and held the phone to his ear as the called dialled. It took four rings for Baekhyun to pick up.
"Hyung, where are you?" The other asked, sounding as if he was somewhere busy.
Yixing glanced at Yifan for a few seconds before deciding that it was definitely better to proceed in Korean, "You weren't home, so I came out. Why? Where are you?"
"You weren't at home when I got there and I came to Min-hyung and Dae's café to see if you were here but you aren't here either."
Yixing gulped slightly and shifted his grip on his phone, he quickly looked around at Yifan who was staring up at him from the floor with Rourou.
"I ran into work, I thought I'd left my jacket behind yesterday," Yixing lied with his eyes clenched shut and his hands balled up. "I'm going home now, though."
"Oh no, come here and we can get lunch together."
"I already ate."
"But Hyung said you hadn't been to the café today."
"I got it from somewhere else."
"Oh, where? Maybe we can go one day," Baekhyun still sounded cheerful but Yixing's gut felt like it was sinking lower in his body.
"I'll show you someday─"
"Hey, hyung," Baekhyun shouted to Yixing's friends before Yixing could get the rest of his sentence out. "Xing-hyung is cheating on you with some other place."
Yixing wasn't even swallowing anything and he started to choke on air as the word cheating flowed into his ears, he ran his tongue over his lips nervously, "Baek."
"I'll come meet you as soon as I can, just stay put. I love you, okay?"
"Okay, hurry hyung."
The phone cut off and Yixing turned around fully to face a Yifan that was then standing.
"I need to go," Yixing muttered quietly.
"I didn't know you could speak Korean," Yifan smiled. "We clearly still have a lot to learn about each other."
Yifan stepped closer to Yixing and the editor watched him without blinking.
"Clearly," Yixing nodded, gulping again but with a dry throat that time.
"We should meet up for another lunch sometime?" Yifan offered, stopping just short of the breakfast bar, roughly a metre from Yixing and the shorter male relaxed. "I've enjoyed spending time with you."
"We should," Yixing agreed and Yifan smiled brightly, which only reminded him that he had to leave. "Message me when you're free and I'll see if I'm around."
"Good." Yixing began walking, passing Yifan easily as he went to the door to change his shoes and put his jacket on. "I'll see you around, then."
"See you," Yifan opened the door and Yixing made his way out. The door closed quietly behind him and he let out a breath, he wasn't sure if something heavier and intense had changed within the last minute of their lunch together but Yixing’s mind was completely fogged up.
Just as he got to the elevator, Yifan walked out holding something in his hand. He held it out to Yixing and Yixing saw that it was an umbrella. He gave Yifan a questioning look and the tall man urged the item towards him. So he took it in his hands warily.
"You've got your jacket on," Yifan nodded towards Yixing's body, "and you said you went to your work looking for it but you're dry." Yixing looked dumbly at the other as the elevator dinged open, which made Yifan sigh. "You would not be dry if you had left your jacket at work like you said you did. So if you have an umbrella then that would make things a little more believable."
Yixing made an 'o' shape with his mouth and Yifan gave him a closed mouth smile as he turned to go back into his apartment. That was when Yixing realised that Yifan could understand the lie he'd spun his boyfriend, Yifan had understood Korean and suddenly Yixing felt a little bit sick as he began his journey out of the building.
Yixing was relieved to not hear from Yifan for a few days, not when he wasn't sure if he felt guilty over the fact he'd lied in front of Yifan or the fact that he had lied to his boyfriend over something that was totally innocent. He was allowed to have friends, Yixing justified with himself, there wasn't wrong about going to have lunch at a friend's house. He hadn't done a single thing wrong in meeting and befriending Yifan and yet there was a constant tension within him that made him think otherwise.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Huh?" Yixing blinked and looked across at Minseok. The elder had sat opposite him while holding a coffee in his hands.
"You spaced out for like fifteen minutes. Dae called you because you've got to go back to work in five minutes and you've not touched any of your food. I wanted to see if you were okay."
"Oh right." Yixing sat up a little straighter. "I'm fine."
Minseok's brow creased worriedly, "You sure?"
"I'm a little tired but I'm sure."
"If you need somebody to talk to then we're here for you," Minseok tilted his head to the side in a way that Yixing had always thought was cute. "We love you."
Yixing smiled but it wasn't a happy one, needless guilt sat on his lips, "I know."
"Now eat up, don't add to our waste deficit," Minseok stood up and went over to Jongdae as Yixing’s stared at the clock ticking away his lunch hour. He ate as much as he could and hid his gaze from his friends’ to make his way over to the counter to pay them.
The editor managed to slink down the street while keeping his eyes scanning every inch for a small poodle or tall man. Yixing did not want to see Yifan just yet, he wasn’t ready for the questions that would come with that meeting and he didn’t want to try and explain himself away. Not because he didn’t want to give an explanation but it was more that he didn’t know what to say about it. He did not know why he lied but he did.
(Or maybe he did know why he had lied but wasn’t ready to admit that to himself yet.)
With hours of thinking under his belt, and his mind still ignoring the alarm bells from his subconscious, Yixing decided that contacting Yifan wasn't going to be any problem. He had thought his jitters over starting a new friendship were rooted in the fact that Yixing found Yifan attractive. Not just handsome but attractive. And almost every relationship guide he had ever set his hands on all stated that human beings were going to find people other than their monogamous partner attractive, as a human's Limbic System doesn't just shut itself down to others while in a relationship. Everything in his light research had told him was that attraction was okay, mutual attraction less so and acting upon that attraction was wrong.
Yixing had messaged the art buyer on a Monday, he didn't assume that he would get a response but his luck was in when he woke up the next day with a reply from Yifan, who had been out of the city tending to one of his clients. They agreed to make up for lunch. It was to be something simple, something to become more friendly and learn about one another. Yixing had decided that he could allow him to have a friendship with Yifan.
However, within three weeks, Yixing and Yifan had a patterned schedule, barring the days that Yifan worked away. They met up for lunch on three of the five work days and Yixing went with Yifan to walk Rourou for two hours on Saturdays. Yixing couldn't help but think his attraction to Yifan increased with how comfortable they became touching one another.
Skinship, it seemed, was a strange phenomenon. Yixing was a touchy person in general; he loved to comfort people with physical contact, he loved to show his presence to somebody with a press of skin and he loved the warmth that could be shared from human to human. It was an instinctive and primitive need for companionship that was easily triggered in Yixing's mind. He was even closer to those he felt he was emotionally bonded with. He could latch and clutch onto somebody he felt himself around. And Yifan had unlocked that part of him far quicker than Yixing would ever be proud of.
It was merely days before Yixing felt like he could hold Yifan's arm as they walked down the street, much like he did with Jongdae, and he could rest his forehead on Yifan's shoulder as they sat next to each other like he did with Minseok. The taller male seemed to be the same with how he sometimes hooked his arm around Yixing's neck or held at his elbow like he had done from earlier on in their friendship. Yixing sometimes caught himself shying away from touches, not because he didn't want them but because they made his heart thud that little bit louder and inexplicably harder.
Their text messages went from infrequent to almost constant with short intervals in between conversations, Yixing's phone was almost always in his hand waiting for the vibration that told him he'd received yet another message. It was something his friends noted. They pointed out the fact that Yixing never tucked the device away into his shirt pockets anymore, it was always either in the easily accessible back pocket of his jeans or held closely.
He could see the weary way his friends cast glances at him, it was impossible to avoid but he didn't mind it so much. He enjoyed coveting Yifan's time, he liked knowing that he occupied the art buyer's mind, he liked knowing that Yifan was thinking of him. He didn't know exactly why but there was something addictive about that. There was something hooking about being appreciated and given attention at almost every waking moment. He could message Yifan if he randomly woke up at 3AM and know he would at least arise to a response, it was like clockwork. As soon as they saw the message, they replied. It was flowing, natural and Yixing hadn't ever had a friend quite like that before.
Yixing couldn't help but bite back a smile whenever he thought of Yifan, he would always push a blush from his cheeks and stop his hands from craving the touch of the other man’s body.
He didn’t understand it, there was something about Yifan that had evolved Yixing. There was a shift but it was valued over time, Yixing couldn’t describe it until he read it in a book.
'We draw lines in the sand to partition ourselves between right and wrong. There are waves that crash over them and they can still be seen when those peaks withdraw from it. It is those who are the tides that change everything. They rub away your lines, they make it seem like the never existed. But that’s what you get when you draw those lines in sand and not concrete; you’re asking for change.'
Yixing thought about that quote while he ate lunch one day, it was one of those times when Yifan didn’t have his dog and to was just the two of them sitting on a small patch of dry asphalt that was covered by an overhanging tree to shield them from the rain. It was a scene one would expect from teenagers, high schoolers brought together between classes to bond over a mutual hatred of some pointless lesson like woodwork, not two full grown adults. But it was refreshing, Yixing hadn’t acted like a teenager in years. He was always the adult, always the serious one that worried about saving for that dream apartment or whether there was milk stocked in the refrigerator. Yixing hadn’t sat quietly on a grey, rainy day with his shoulder resting against somebody else's while they ate their food in comfortable silence since he had graduated from high school.
Bit by bit, the tide was coming in and Yixing wasn’t running for the concrete.
Whitewash walls were everywhere, the flooring was a pale wooden panelling and the lights were white and fluorescent. It wasn’t what he was there to see but it’s what he was overwhelmed by when he stepped in through the glass door. Almost immediately he was asked for his name, proof of identification and his invite. He wasn’t searched or spoken to after then until he made his way further in and a flute of champagne was thrust into his hands. He felt out of place, oddly abstract in the setting until he felt the already familiar wrap of a hand around his elbow.
“You’re here,” the other greeted and Yixing nodded, still holding his card invite in his hand. “I didn’t know if you would show.”
“Why would I not come?” Yifan’s look flattened in an instant and Yixing continued before the question could be answered. He didn’t want to be reminded, “You invited me, so I came.”
“I’m happy that you are. I wasn’t sure if this was your kind of thing but you sit and talk to me for hours about the books your editing, so I thought I would introduce you to what I do,” Yifan gestured around the room and only then did Yixing take in the fact that the whole space was filled with art. It hung on those whitewash walls, it stood on whitewash podiums and it projected into a darkened room that still had whitewash surfaces. “What’s your first impression?”
“It’s all so white.”
“It is rather glaring at first, I agree. But this is how art is presented these days, everything is white so as to not detract from the work. White makes colour bolder, it makes blacks deeper and draws the eye into everything else that is to be seen.”
“But why so harsh with it? Can’t it be a warmer colour? Like cream, maybe?”
“There are colours that clash with cream, it is very difficult to clash with white. It’s all about making everything seem clean and fresh. White is a timeless sign of purity and modernity in art.”
“I can see why people think your job is rather pompous,” Yixing hummed, sipping on the drink he was given and Yifan’s hand slipped from his arm to the back of his waist. The palm was a modest way up the younger’s back but it was comforting enough for Yixing to retain some of the minimal warmth the room was emitting.
Yifan led Yixing around to each of the pieces and gave him in-depth analysis of the work; why it was created (or commissioned), what the symbolism was and the impact it was supposed to have on people. Yixing tried to understand everything he was being told but some of the language didn’t compute in his mind. When Yifan would talk about an artist’s technique, it was like stepping into a new world.
He could see beyond the plain walls and look at something through Yifan’s eyes. He could hear how passionate the elder was when he talked about the pieces. That’s probably how he did his job, his love for art and everything signified in it translated in how he interacted with the work.
Like with anything, Yixing could see that Yifan had his likes and dislikes but that was probably because he felt like he knew the man. He could read his posture, his vocal tones and his eyes far more easily than somebody who would have been meeting him for a single evening. Not to mention the fact that Yifan had a genuine and honest aura about him. A person could look at him and trust him, it was a great trait for a sales person to have.
Yifan explained that the red dots next to the works were all the pieces that had been sold that night, it was a sign that the item had been purchased by the people in the room and Yixing let his eyes roll over the walls in search of the small stickers next to items. He was surprised by how many had been sold.
“They’re all sold by you?” Yixing queried.
“Not just me, my team too,” Yifan pointed some people out and Yixing could see how they were different to those browsing through the pieces. They were rotating the room like clockwork, speaking with unending sincerity and enthusiasm. Yixing found it both exciting and nauseating.
“You have a team?”
“Yeah, we tend to work together. Especially on events like this. We all have our specialisms but everybody tends to be well-rounded in knowledge of technique and provenance, as we need to be able to sell or haggle for anything given to us and that means that you have to be able to talk about the piece in question.”
“What’s your specialist area?”
“I don’t really have one, my mother is an artist. I was raised around all of this, all I really know is art,” Yifan took a sip of the drink he had hung in his free hand and Yixing pressed himself a little closer to Yifan’s side.
“What does your mother make?” Yixing peered up at the tall man who looked down at him in return.
“Whatever she wants. She used watercolours when I was a kid but she evolves, the world is her muse and if she feels like finding a work of art in a lump of clay then that’s what she does. She’s passionate about what she creates, even if she doesn’t quite know where any of it is leading.”
“Do you inherit her talents?” Yixing hooked his arm around Yifan’s arm, being the one to hold the other closer that time.
“No, I did not,” Yifan laughed out, it was loud and it rang through the gallery, turning heads and making people scowl as it cut through the serene setting. “She says I’m more like my father, I’m a little tamer with my creativity than she is but I still like to doodle, take photographs and build things.”
“You don’t have to be good at art to enjoy it,” Yixing hummed gently, fixing his gaze on the painting in front of him.
“Only those who are talented in the arts ever say that.”
“But it’s the truth.”
Yixing couldn’t see it but he was certain that Yifan was smiling, “It probably is.”
“It’s a shame you didn’t inherit her abilities but, from what you’ve said about her, you’ve got that fiery passion that she has within you. Sometimes you only need passion and a love for something to continue, two feelings that often go hand-in-hand.”
“Wise words, Mister Zhang,” Yifan gulped down the rest of his drink and Yixing watched as the taller male switched his alcohol to the orange juice they were providing for those who didn’t drink. It didn’t baffle Yixing, as he knew Yifan was probably still working and shouldn’t drink, yet that made Yixing stop drinking for the evening, too. He looked didn’t want to embarrass Yifan for getting drunk nor did he want to turn up at home inebriated.
Yixing thought carefully over the fact that he had told Baekhyun that he would be working late that night, that he would get home as soon as he could and that meant not getting drunk. He was barely coherent when he was sober, he could not get caught up in a lie he didn’t even have to tell.
He veered past Yifan and picked one of the drinks before tucking himself back away against the tall male, it was a little comforting to know that Yifan was there by his side because he’d never been to an event of that type.
Yixing hadn’t known what to expect and that had meant a clog in his anxiety filter. He had feared an auction, one he would accidentally enter and be put in for some ridiculous amount of money that he didn’t have. Yifan had told him over and over that there was nothing to work about, the gallery openings were a quiet and docile event, there would be no room for an auctioneer just yet.
Yixing had sighed out in relief but that didn’t do anything to stop the panic, he had no idea what to expect from the people around. A large part of him was thankful that none of Baekhyun’s friends turn up at gallery events. Yixing felt safe like Yifan was a cocoon.
Yixing lingered around until the other guests of the show left and Yifan had directed his staff to know what to do as they packed away, a few of the artists popped in to see how their work had sold and Yixing saw many red dots go noticed by searching eyes. Nevertheless, his focus remained on Yifan's form as the older male moved with concentrated purpose. Yixing could see the passion there but there was a driven and firm head on Yifan's shoulders when he was working.
Yixing found his stomach simmering at the sight.
When it was time to leave, Yixing's hand instantly latched onto Yifan's as they walked through the dark streets with their thick clothing rustling against each other's bodies. It had grown so familiar for Yixing. A hand engulfing his, a tall shoulder to lean on when the wind whistled across his cheeks and a person to smile happily up at. It felt like something more was forming, Yixing sensed that the thread-thin line caution laid out was almost upon him.
Yifan guided him, he drew them through the city with a knowledge Yixing didn't have and the editor smiled when the park came into view. There was nobody else entering on the pathway, the only things that could be heard were the odd swishing of leaves that had fallen on the ground to welcome winter. He didn't question it as Yifan ushered him to one of the benches. It easily accommodated the both of them but their thighs still pressed together when they sat down.
Yixing wasn’t sure when something flickered and changed the tension between them. Yifan’s fingers were toying with Yixing’s far smaller ones, making him feel more petite than he normally did but he didn’t hate that reaction. It was enough to make him feel completely surrounded by Yifan, his fingers were a scaled down version of everything between them and Yixing couldn’t help licking his lips just a little.
His gaze, fixed and focused on Yifan, didn’t leave the taller’s eyes as they sat side by side on the bench in the deserted park. Nobody was around to see them, the streetlights cast a warm, orange glow a short way down the path and Yixing was transfixed by how golden Yixing’s eyes looked.
The fingers in Yixing’s hands moved away and skittered up his neck like skimming stones across a lake, he shuddered at the touch but didn’t flinch away. The voice in his head that told him not to let Yifan so close was drowned out by the part that told him to get nearer to the other. So when Yifan’s long fingers wrapped around his jaw, he let himself be drawn closer and closer until he could no longer focus on the shimmering speckles in Yifan’s eyes. He could feel the elder’s breath on his cheek, the inches between them were almost solid with anticipation and Yixing’s hands moved to rest on Yifan’s arms.
He expected his brain to work by instant reaction and push the man who wasn’t his boyfriend away but it was purely for balance as if he knew that what was to come would throw him off-centre.
Yifan’s face came closer, his lips brushed Yixing’s and the editor’s eyes fluttered closed. Yixing’s body was wrought with feelings that smouldered and fermented under his skin. Everything told him that he wanted Yifan’s lips to press down harder, that he needed to draw the elder’s exhales into his mouth and that he needed to push his body until only skin separated them.
The tall man with the intense stare had triggered Yixing’s primal need for contact and that was only sated when Yifan concluded that Yixing would not be pulling away from him. The elder closed the millimetres of space between them. Their lips collided like feathers landing on paper; a slow drifting act of natural gravity. Yixing couldn't see anything but darkness with his eyes close but that only spurred him on to move his lips against Yifan's. They fit together as their lips massaged and ran over each other like paintbrushes on a canvas. Yixing couldn't think of words or a moment that could summarise everything he felt in those fleeting moments.
It was a chain reaction from then, there was no tongue but Yixing held tighter to Yifan's arms and Yifan's hand held his jaw delicately enough that Yixing felt like wet clay ready to be moulded and fashioned into something beautiful. His entire body thrummed with electricity. It wasn't the shocking kind, it was a steady current that his heart controlled and the voltage increased with every small puff of Yifan's breath that he felt on the warm flesh of his lips.
He wanted to open his eyes, to experience the moment with every sense but his mind told him that he shouldn't do so. It could make everything real. It could make the lapse in Yixing's fidelity something real.
That was when he pushed Yifan away with as much force as he could, he heard the elder make a shocked squeaking noise and Yixing still didn't let his eyes open, he didn't want to take in the expression of Yifan's face and he held his fingers to his own mouth. He could feel the warmth of tears under his eyelids, he knew it wouldn't be long before they spilt out over his cheeks and he did not want Yifan to see that. He didn't want anybody to see that.
"Yixing," he heard Yifan whisper, he sounded far away and Yixing couldn't blame him for the movement.
"I think you should go," Yixing croaked, his voice was far rawer than he wanted it to sound, it showed just how much the kiss impacted Yixing.
"Yixing," Yifan's hand was on his jaw again.
"You should leave me alone. I didn't want this to happen."
"You didn't push me away, I gave you enough time to push me away."
"I know you did but this wasn't supposed to happen between us," Yixing's words were a whisper, his hands were balled up in his lap and there was nothing he could do to stop the sob that left his mouth.
Yixing's brows furrowed deeply and he clenched his eyes tighter together, "I have a boyfriend."
"So it's not because you don't want this? It's not because you don't feel the same."
"I have a boyfriend, Yifan."
"One that you lie to when you meet up with me," Yifan bit out in Korean and Yixing bowed his head, that singular sentence was enough to let the ashamed part of his brain bloom. "If this wasn't what you wanted then I wouldn't be a secret to be kept."
"I was wrong to do that," Yixing turned his body away from Yifan, curling in on himself. He wanted to go to his bed already. "None of this should have happened, I already regret everything."
Yifan didn't respond, no matter how long Yixing waited for something to be said back to him but there was nothing but silence around him as he finally opened his eyes. Yifan was nowhere in sight, Yixing was left alone in the dark. No matter how much he wanted to go to bed, he didn't want to go back to that apartment. He didn't think it would be right to get back into the bed he shared with his boyfriend with the taste of another man on his lips. Yixing knew everything he'd done was wrong, the nagging part of his brain told him that the pain he was feeling was entirely deserved. He had brought everything upon himself.
He was the one with the boyfriend, he was the one who didn't push Yifan away and he was the one who didn't do anything to stop what─deep down─he knew was happening.
Yixing's thumb hovered over the 'Delete Contact' option on his phone as he stared at Yifan's details, he'd done that several times as a week passed since the art buyer had kissed him. He knew he shouldn’t have done it, there was a certainty in the loyalty he should have been showing Baekhyun but that seemed redundant as Yixing considered how happy he had been at Yifan's side.
It was for the best, he told himself.
He didn't believe those words.
His focus at work strayed, his ability to separate himself from the texts he was reading and reality became harder as he lost to his imagination. The editor stopped eating his lunch in and around the park, he stuck to the indoors of Jongdae and Minseok's café where he knew he was safe from the tall, raven-haired man he was actively avoiding.
But, like with anything, the backlash was felt easily. The faults, the swelling of his seclusion and the wish to be surrounded by a large body. What he'd had with Yifan wasn't enough. He should not have wanted more, he couldn't work out why he craved more when he had gone so long before without it. It deadened him.
Yixing felt like he was missing a part of himself. A sliver of his being that Baekhyun should have own the entirety of; it was wrong. It was too much all at once. It was confusing, almost as if he couldn't stretch himself without buckling under the pressure and it was somehow harder to be happy than it had been prior to meeting Yifan.
Nothing was clear in his head, there was no moment of clarity and there wasn't enough for himself. His loneliness concentrated within him and tangled him up in a state of almost constant sadness that a part of him thought he deserved and another that viewed the opposite.
It was a push and pull of emotions as he pressed the home button on his phone, not clearing Yifan's contact but taking it from view before sliding the device into his pocket. He wanted there to be something that made everything clearer before he said too much or did too much. Yixing worried, he fretted and he let himself wallow in the refrain of his own actions.
He knew he needed to find the route of his intentions before he did anything more but the more willing sections of his mind wanted to shut off his ability to think. He wanted to run by instinct, to follow his gut and that primitive subconscious terrified him. It was impulsive and he knew there was only so much time before his defences against himself crumbled down.