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The Curse of Love

Chapter Text

The twelve year old sat lotus style on the park bench, stone blue eyes squinted at the pages of the lesson they had covered in class that afternoon.

His voice was soft and pleasant to the ear as he quietly read.

“…has not been determined, but the blooming can be considered both a blessing and a curse for those who feel the emotion called ‘love’, more specifically ‘romantic love’. When an individual falls in love, towards the target of that love, the individual’s body produces a ‘seed’ and depending on the emotion received in return by the target of love, the seed will manifest and plant itself in either the brain, or the lungs.”

The boy cringed at that.

“The seed growing in the brain is the best outcome, it means that the love is returned and will then painlessly bloom flowers from the spot just behind the ear. Boys often bloom flowers of ambrosia, ivy and zinnia while girls bloom flowers of daisies, myrtle and roses while peonies are bloomed by both the sexes. This phenomenon is called, ‘hua kai’*” Pausing in his reading, the boy observed the pictures glued under the paragraph.

His lower eyelid twitched in annoyance when he saw the famous actors and models with their too pretty faces coyly turned to the side to show off the evidence of their returned love.

Ptooey! The boy spat.

Even he knew that love for these people does not last. It wasn’t taught in class but his mother once told him that when a person falls out of love, the hua kai withers and dies. It does not mean that you cannot fall in love anymore only that you can fall in love all over again. Proving that love was a fickle thing especially in that line of work.

Scoffing, he goes back to reading the rest of the notes.

“The other seed that grows in the lungs, and sometimes the heart, is the absolute worse outcome. It is caused by unrequited or rejected love. This is a fatal growth that will cause endless pain and torment by way of the roots forcibly feeding on the individual’s body…” The boy suddenly stopped reading causing two other boys who had been listening in for a quite a while now, to slightly recoil.

He did not notice them.

Swallowing thickly, he continued to read aloud. “…feeding on the individual’s body as it cannot grow safely without the returned love. The manifestation is not as painless and abrupt as the hua kai. The first symptoms will appear to be minor chest pains that will gradually become worse as the roots continue to develop. Then together with the increasing pain, the individual will begin to expel bloodied petals from the mouth. It is only when the petals become full flowers that the individual will enter the final stage of this disease, leading to the individual’s death. This phenomenon is called ‘hua tu bing’** and is known as one of the worse 'slow killers' in medical history.”

The three boys blanched.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, the boy calmed himself once more before quickly reading through the rest of the page. Sighing with relief, he summarized the remaining paragraphs. “Looks like the hua tu bing can be halted by becoming friends with the target of love, or having surgery to permanently remove the roots in the early stages!”

“But doesn’t surgery mean you have to let the doctor cut you up?” a small voice questioned.

Yang Jinghua felt as though his skeleton wanted to abandon its skin and run away!

Rigidly turning around, he finally noticed the two boys wearing that absurd white preppy uniform from the nearby academy for rich kids. They were both hovering behind his bench, one leaning quite close to read over Jinghua's shoulder while the other one was propped on the backrest, one hand supporting his chin.

“That’s only half right A-Xi. They clean and stitch you up right away when they’re done, and you get a cool scar after it heals!” The other boy says making a vague 'x' motion at the smaller boy's chest before turning to look at Jinghua, “Anyways, I didn’t think you were interested in anything to do with love.”

Jinghua gave Shenlong Zhangxuan a wholly disgusted look, “I don’t. It’s too troublesome, everyone else keeps showing off their stupid flowers, it’s too shameless!”

The boy sticking close to Jinghua tilted his head curiously, “Then why were you reading about it?”

Giving the two boys a spiritless laugh he replied, “I slept through class and had to borrow Fei Fei’s book to copy the notes. I decided to read it while waiting for you two.” Scratching his head he also added, “There’s also a test on it tomorrow.”

Duanmu Xi nodded a little before giving Jinghua some space to pack up his belongings which was just him stuffing it and throwing the strap of his pack over his shoulder.

“Ready to go?”

The boys went around the bench to stand beside the bouncing Jinghua.

“You sure are excited to return. You hate housekeeping practice.”  Zhangxuan raised an eyebrow.

Jinghua grinned, “Oh I do. I hate it to death, but today is my exam for it! If I pass, I can join you two in martial arts training!”

The two boys looked delighted.

“That’s great Xiao Hua! Good luck to you!” Xi says with appropriate excitement, his hand holding Jinghua’s.

Jinghua sputtered at the ‘Xiao Hua’ bit, but the grin remained on his face as he accepted Zhangxuan’s one armed hug and Xi’s constant stickiness.

In a light mood the three boys headed off to the Duanmu's main estate where their night classes are held.

In silence, Jinghua thought of his test and how it was split into three categories, the time limit for each part being less than forty minutes. The first part is regular cleaning which thinks he does a fairly decent job at. The second part is cooking, which Jinghua is actually really worried about, he only memorized fifteen out of thirty-two need to learn recipes, he hopes to hell they ask him to make the ones he is actually good at otherwise he might be in deep waters!

The third part however, is what he was the most confident in, house maintenance, plumbing and repairs.

Zhangxuan and Xi had long left him behind in housekeeping practice, since things like that were mere child’s play for them. And with their abilities to learn quickly and perform perfectly, it was no wonder!

Jinghua on the other hand, is only a little slow witted and clumsy, adding his late start to the practicing due to certain circumstances, he is obviously lower than them but Jinghua endures to work hard and spare no effort to catch up to his friends.

Why?

Because they are his best friends, practically brothers in all but blood. Swearing an oath to each other, to always be there for each other.

This oath means the world to him, for he has lost everything but them. The phantom crackling of burning wood still echoes in his ears.

TBC…

Chapter Text

The Next Day...

Waking abruptly and staring blearily at the lacquered ceiling above, the young boy laid listlessly on the downy soft mattress. His limbs feeling as though it was weighed down by bricks.

Waiting for the heaviness to pass, the boy leisurely began to squirm and extend his arms.

Not bumping them into a nearby body, that was supposed to be there, Duanmu Xi jumped up as if he had been electrocuted.

Looking left and right, he saw that he was the only one on the bed.

Heart hammering, Xi was just about to leap out from the mountain of blankets when the bathroom door pushed open, and Yang Jinghua strode out.

Xi was struck dumb as he took one look at his shivering friend and the alarm clock next to the bed. The time read 5:26 AM.

“Why are you up so early?” Xi questioned to the distracted boy.

As if Jinghua had heard his voice but not the question, the dark head shot up in surprise.

Teeth chattering he asked, “D-d-did I-I w-wake y-y-ou?”

Xi shook his head saying no. “But I was worried when I didn’t see you in the bed with me. Are you feeling alright?” Xi asked while slipping out of the warm sheets.

“Any headaches? Fevers? Dizziness?”

Jinghua gave a sheepish smile while answering croakily, “F-fever.”

Xi continued walking up to the still wet and trembling boy and reached out to touch his skin. It was chilled as though Jinghua had been lying in a tub filled with ice cubes!

Alarmed, Xi had snatched away the fluffy towel from Jinghua's body to quickly dry his skin while getting him into clean underwear and his oddly thick school uniform.

Jinghua didn’t bother uttering a single word during Xi’s pampering, just letting Xi do as he pleased. Even when he plugged on the hair dryer to blow on those midnight tresses. Xi ran his fingers shamelessly through Jinghua’s long hair when they'd dried. Playing with them for a little before choosing a white ribbon to draw them back into a neat ponytail.

Satisfied with Jinghua’s neat appearance, Xi pressed his palm to Jinghua’s forehead. The skin had warmed to the point it was boiling beneath his fingers!

Xi removed his hand in shock.

“Did you take your medicine last night?” he asked worriedly.

Jinghua drowsily shook his head, saying no.

“After the exam last night... I just crawled into bed and went to sleep.” He muttered tiredly.

Sighing to himself, Xi took Jinghua by the hand and lead him out of his bedroom. The two boys passed several before arriving at the dormitory's cafeteria hall. Seeing that the lights in the kitchen were on and the many figures that were bustling around.

Xi cleared his throat and greeted the staff.

“Good morning everyone!”

Noticing that they had already gotten arrivals for breakfast, the staff bowed in unison, all saying, “Good morning to the young ones. We are at your service!”

Xi smiled a little, “I would like a bowl of wheat noodles and beef set aside. And my Xiao Hua will have a bowl of congee.”

Hearing the order, the staff realized it was the family head’s second son and the adopted child who’s surname was Yang. They took one look at Jinghua’s pale face and dazed eyes and also realized that the other boy had fallen ill again!

“The food will be done shortly. Please have a seat and we will bring it to you.” An auntie courteously replied.

After nodding his thanks, Xi wordlessly settled Jinghua into a seat and gently told him, “I will be right back. I am going to get dressed.”

Jinghua nodded mindlessly at first before he frowned, “Did you have school today?”

“No. That’s why I’ll accompany you today.” Xi says resolutely.

Jinghua’s eyes started to spin, “What?!” he cried. “It’s okay! I'll be fine! I don’t need a babysitter!”

Xi’s face darkened, “Yes, you do! Have you forgotten the last few times you went out in this condition? Have you?”

Jinghua meekly sunk into his seat, “But nothing too bad happened. It was just a few cuts and bruises.”

Xi stared at him in disbelief, “Just a few cuts and bruises he says! Yang Jinghua, you almost died!”

Jinghua rose his hands weakly, "Xi, please don’t shout. It hurts…”

Xi wanted to scold him good and proper but the pained look on Jinghua’s face made him seem close to death.

Sighing deeply, Xi turned around and went back to his own room where his casual clothes hung in that spacious closet. If he had to dress for school, he would have just made his way back to Jinghua’s room where he’d mixed most of his belongings with the other boy’s.

In a way, Jinghua’s room felt more like his room than Xi’s own room did, having practically abandoned it to live with the other boy.

Opening his bedroom door, Xi scurried towards the double doors on the other side of the room. Throwing them open, he quickly grabbed a random outfit and threw it on his bed before dashing into the bathroom to wash up. In less than ten minutes Xi was already dressed and walking briskly to Jinghua’s room to grab a packet of the other boy’s prescribed medication and multivitamins.

Pursing his lips, Xi almost couldn’t remember a day when Jinghua didn’t need to take these cocktail of pills.

Especially the anti-depressants. And when they don't work, the tranquilizers are what’s really needed.*

Xi and Zhangxuan always make certain to keep an emergency syringe on them just in case Jinghua has an episode. It always shaves a couple years off of Xi’s lifespan every time Jinghua suffers one. He’s so scared that something might happen to the other boy. Something terrible. And then one day, when Xi isn't looking. Jinghua would no longer be there by his side but as a body of ashes buried in a grave.

It’s one of the reasons why Xi clings so much. The absolute fear of losing the one person he cares for most.

And as he re-enters the cafeteria hall, the space appearing almost desolate and abandoned in the early hours of the morning. He sees Jinghua carefully eating what was probably his second bowl of rice congee with an empty expression upon his fevered features.

Xi halts for a moment, and for a fraction of a second, he sees a different scene. A scene that makes his scalp tingle incessantly and his heart throb in agony. Jinghua hooked up to multiple wires and tubes, bandages hiding first-degree burns and the frantic wailing of the machines as the nurses scattered about like headless flies.

Shoving his bowl away, Jinghua contentedly began caressing his full tummy and had almost blown chunks when Xi, silent as the grave, snuck up on him. Embraced from the back as a tender face buried into the crook of his heated neck. Managing to keep his breakfast down, Jinghua turned to scold Xi with a scary look on his face but felt his voice shrivel on the first syllable when he felt something wet soaking onto his neck. 

Weeping soundlessly, Xi pressed his lips to Jinghua’s frantic pulse.

“I swear it… I swear that I’ll always be there to protect you.”

When Xi re-declared this vow, Jinghua's voice sounded almost fearful when he responds.

“Protect me... From what?”

Silence reigned for a short while, but only one word came out of Xi’s mouth. 

"Everything.”

TBC…

Chapter Text

Throwing on a sleek black jacket, Shenlong Zhangxuan smiled wryly at his reflection. Absently wondering why it was that he felt so restless this morning.

Maybe it was a bad feeling, or maybe it was Jinghua up to no good again thus causing A-Xi’s hair to turn white all the faster*. Laughing a little, Zhangxuan really did notice that the boy’s hair had a few streaks of white in them. Yet it never bothered A-Xi that he was stressing himself out, instead it brought him some level of joy. The constant need to protect and coddle their youngest of the group made A-Xi feel useful, and Zhangxuan… He understood that.

He understood it all too well.

Because for a very long time, he had felt the same complex emotions for Xi. He wanted to protect and watch him grow up both safe and healthy. To become a great and respected person. Duanmu Xi was someone that was younger than him by only a few months but he couldn’t help but to put him on a pedestal. The boy’s innocence, politeness and kindness being what had initially drawn him towards the second young master. Yet it was his overwhelming potential that made him extend his hand in friendship to that ostracized little boy who was his blood relative.

Back then, at the tender age of six, Zhangxuan had fought his elder brother tooth and nail to arrange for his admittance to the clan’s internal training classes. Classes that would prepare the next generation allied and associated with the Duanmus for the cut throat world that awaited them. He knew that he would be interacting with many children from the different families should he leave his family’s home but he wasn't worried. Zhangxuan was confident he could become friends with, or at least be on good terms with the other children so he was quite prepared.

It was with tears of blood running down his cheeks that Shenlong Xiren finally let his cute baby brother to spread his wings and fly far away. Granted, his brother had been overreacting. Zhangxuan knew that despite having to live in a dormitory with the many young masters and young mistresses, they were allowed to return home. But the catch was that any extracurricular training such as on the job training, global travelling and survival trips would never get to be experienced should they choose to go home.

…actually, his brother had every right to overreact, Zhangxuan mused.

With such opportunities being so freely offered, not one of them would ever choose to go back home unless it was a matter of life and death, or at the very least, New Years.

Zhangxuan settled for video chatting with his overbearing brother to make up for not actually wanting to go back. And despite his elder brother’s initial reaction to letting him leave, he was proud of Zhangxuan for wanting to be independent and responsible for his own future.

Smiling softly, he still remembers the first thing he did when he met the second young master, the day after settling into the dorms.

He doesn’t regret doing what he did but Zhangxuan thinks that maybe watching those feudal dramas where the loyal retainers or those great generals. Men who would get down onto their knees, pledging with solemn conviction of their unwavering loyalty to their masters, was a bad idea. Because without thinking Shenlong Zhangxuan had done exactly that, leaving quite the unshakable impression upon everyone who had been living in the dorms at the time! 

When A-Xi had been regaling to Jinghua of his first meeting with Zhangxuan**, Jinghua had outright keeled over and almost laughed himself to death while saying that Zhangxuan was lucky no one thought he had been proposing to the other boy.

Zhangxuan and Xi had purposely given each other a considering once over when those words had left Jinghua’s mouth. Their actions causing Jinghua to wail at the top of his lungs, begging them to stop.

Shaking his head with a fond grin, Zhangxuan locked his door and headed to the cafeteria hall.

When he walked in, he gave a cursory look around the bustling room, hoping to see the familiar faces of his best friends, yet not finding them.

He looked again and couldn’t help but to raise an eyebrow. “Either they’re sleeping in, or they are killing time in the main library.” he muttered. He vaguely remembered Jinghua grumbling about a test on the hua kai.

Speaking of, it really was a well-known phenomenon!

But since it was always around for them to see, and the many fanciful stories were always told to them. Xi and Zhangxuan never paid much attention to it. Who knew that if the love was not reciprocated then the blooming would become spitting! Not only that, it was recorded as fatal. It was a shot in the dark to become friends with one's love interest and sometimes, from what he read online, the surgery to remove the roots end up being too damaging to both the person’s body and emotional state.

Zhangxuan didn’t know if Jinghua found out about the downsides of doing the surgery to remove the roots. But it was clearly stated that the person would be rendered incapable of ever falling in love again should surgery be done.

As he remembered glimpsing the surgical scars found on A-Xi’s chest. He felt an uneasy feeling rise up as he made a sudden connection between the scars and the hua tu bing. Especially considering the boy was quite healthy and had no illnesses whatsoever.

Pushing those thoughts away, Zhangxuan approached the kitchen auntie and ordered a plate of scallion pancakes and a glass of soy milk. After accepting his tray, he sat himself at a nearby table and waved at a few familiar faces.

They either waved back or gave him a nod of acknowledgment in return.

Polishing off his meal with huge bites and deep gulps, he hurriedly placed his dirty dishes through a slot and jogged out of the cafeteria in search of the duo who were like a ball and chain.

Practically married but not quite, he thinks in amusement.

Just as he was about to head off to the dorm entrance, Jinghua’s horrified screams of denial pierced his eardrums like a spear!

Dashing out into the entryway, Zhangxuan came upon the scene of a distressed Jinghua collapsed onto his side while a frantic Xi was trying and failing to reassurance him. Their teacher for the clan training, teacher Ling was casually poised with Jinghua’s emergency shot held definitively in the air.

Heart pounding, Zhangxuan rushed to their teacher's side and snatched away the syringe.

“He’s not having an episode.” He says faintly.

Looking somewhat flustered the teacher responds, “My mistake… I wasn’t really going to give it to him.”

Zhangxuan refrained from shooting the man a dubious look because it certainly did not look that way to him!

Feeling completely out of the loop, Zhangxuan glanced between the still sobbing Jinghua and the sheepish teacher.

“What happened?”

The man seemed to have blanked at the question.

“Ah…!” the man exclaimed in remembrance before turning to sputter at the collapsed brat.

“Yang Jinghua, you little drama queen! Stop crying already! It is not the end of the world!” teacher Ling suddenly cries.

Jinghua’s bright red face snaps up, “It is the end of the world! It’s too late for me!”

Zhangxuan gawks at the dramatic reply.

“Not it’s not!” the teacher groans in exasperation. “You can always try again!”

Jinghua wailed, “No! I don’t care anymore. I give up! Just leave me be!”

Zhangxuan watched as both teacher Ling and A-Xi slap their foreheads in despair.

“Xiao Hua, please calm down.” A-Xi begged. “You can always retake the test. It’s no big deal.”

With those words, Zhangxuan and a few eavesdroppers fell to the floor in disbelief.

TBC…

Chapter Text

It was only after receiving the scolding of a lifetime from both Duanmu Siyun and Qin Siyao, two fellow residents in the dorms*, Jinghua could no longer put up a front. The girls rose an eyebrow at his abnormal silence and almost suffered from heart failure when Jinghua finally let himself fall into unconsciousness.

Calmly, Duanmu Xi approached him, pressing his palm to Jinghua’s burning forehead.

Zhangxuan hovered, “Is it another fever?”

Xi nodded, “I already gave him his medication for the morning and it’s still clinging to him.”  

The brown haired girl, Siyao sat squatted next to the fainted person, idly poking his red cheek with a questioning look. “I was pretty sure this guy hadn’t been getting any fevers for a while now. Did he pick up an infection or is it a side effect of his pills?”

Hearing this question, Zhangxuan noticeably stiffened. This caused the Duanmu cousins, teacher Ling and Siyao to shoot him puzzled looks.

He slowly rose his hand and weakly confessed.

“Uhm… Recently I went to collect the next batch of Jinghua's pills, and they told me that the ones they usually give him were out of stock. The shipment was delayed, and well… Jinghua isn’t supposed to be taken off of his meds, so they sort of… Prescribed him another drug…?” 

Their teacher felt as though his soul was about to escape.

“Does… Was Duanmu Yin told of this?”

Xi perked, “Father? Why tell him?”

Teacher Ling shook his head, “The Duanmu head is the sole person in the family responsible for managing Jinghua’s health and safety in place of his guardian Yang Ning. So it goes without saying that everything we do for Jinghua must be reported back to the family head.”

Xi was slightly taken aback. He knew that back then his father had been the only reason why Jinghua was still alive and that he might have only helped out on a whim. But never did he believe that his father would still be involved with Jinghua’s continued welfare!

He always assumed that Uncle Yang had been doing whatever he could for Jinghua at a distance, but that seemed to not be the case.

Zhangxuan nodded to their teacher. “I left a message but seeing nothing had been done. I just assumed everything would be alright.”

“You idiot!” Siyun yelled, causing Zhangxuan to flinch back.

“Left a message how? Did uncle Yin really receive your message?”

Zhangxuan mumbled, “I left a note on his desk.”

Siyun frowned, “How long ago?”

Zhangxuan, “Three days ago.”

Siyun, “…”

Seeing the girl rearing to charge at him, Zhangxuan yelped and ran off with the girl hot on his tail!

Struck dumb at their abrupt departure, their teacher could only shake his head and say to the others, “I will talk to the family head. He should have returned from his business trip sometime this morning.”

Siyao raised her head immediately.

“He really did come back. I saw uncle with little Huayu at the gazeebo** just before breakfast!”

With a groan, teacher Ling left them with strict instructions to move the unconscious boy back to his room and wait for the family nurse to attend to him.

Causally picking up Jinghua, Xi tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and turned to leave. Siyao following behind.

When they arrived in the bedroom Xi set Jinghua down with more care than when he had picked him up. With a sigh, Xi rubbed his temples to ease the throbbing there.

Glancing sideways, he saw the time on the clock and murmured, “Quarter to eight.”

“Oh right!” Seeming to have remembered, Siyao huffed.

“Jinghua has school today doesn't he. Even if this little idiot left now, he’d be marked as late. Uncle or the nurse would probably call in sick for him.”

With a complicated look on his face, Xi nodded in agreement.

Just as the two were lapsing into an awkward silence the very 'uncle' Siyao had mentioned, Xi’s father. Skidded into the room with a frustrated look on his face.

Jogging up to the sleeping boy, the older man placed his fingers lightly on Jinghua’s pulse before pressing a big hand to Jinghua’s forehead in a move eerily identical to Xi’s.

Siyao could only look between the father and son in silent awe. The resemblance was really too astonishing!

Sighing through his nose, Duanmu Yin turned around and was mildly surprised to see them in the room.

Nodding to them in greeting, he abruptly asked. “Do you either of you know where he keeps his medicine?”

Siyao shook her head saying no, but Xi wordlessly made his way up to the jam-packed book shelf, removing an age old tin. Opening it, he gave his father a card of the anti-depressants.

Smirking, he tugged at his son’s cheek as a weird thank you before peering at the name of the pill on the back. A scowl immediately marred his features.

“Do you know this medicine?” Xi asked carefully.

Yin messed up his silky black hair and plopped himself next to Jinghua on the bed. This caused the blue ivies blossomed from his head to jostle pathetically.

“Of course I know of it! I made certain to memorize all of the medication with the highest probability for side effects.” He glared hatefully at the card of pills. “What stupid bastard approved these pills for Xiao Hua?”

With the exception of Duanmu Huayu, Xi's baby sister. His father had never shown such emotions towards Xi. Nor his older half siblings, Siming and Siping.

So this attentiveness towards Jinghua irked Xi a lot. Especially when he used Xi’s favored term of endearment.

Don’t get him wrong, Xi isn’t very attached to his absentee father and neither are his older siblings.

But it's hard to wrap his head around the fact the extent of his father's goodwill didn't ended at allowing Jinghua sanctuary within the Duanmu estate under uncle Yang's request.

A short knock startled the occupants in the room causing all three to face the newcomers. The appearance of this person incited varying reactions among them. Yin expressing elation. Xi expressing mild fear. And Siyao expressing nervousness at the sight of a white clad individual with vibrant fiery red hair and a single stalk of blossomed myrtle behind their ear.

Huayu was asleep in their arms, the little girl wearing her favorite yellow dress.

“I sorted out the situation with Jinghua’s doctor and got his proper prescription in order. All we need to do now is wait for the servant to fetch the fresh batch from the hospital.” the red head carelessly informs.

“I also passed by the nurse to let her know about the situation. She’s going to send up an herbal tea to flush out his system.”

Yin gave his partner an approving smile before giving Jinghua a look of pity. “Poor thing is going to have to drink some nasty brew.”

Rolling their eyes, Yang Yinzhe gave his nephew a wicked grin.

“He’s going to be miserable for the entire day. I can’t wait to watch.”

Duanmu Yin gave his partner a ‘why are you like this’ look.

Chuckling darkly, “It’s cuz his face looks like Ning Ning’s. I can’t help but to bully him… Hm?”

Xi, who had been trying to become air for the past few seconds, felt his soul depart the moment his father’s third wife locked gazes with him.

The boy resigned himself knowing what the person did next could not be avoided. 

Looking as though heaven’s messengers had descended. Yinzhe quickly passed his daughter off to a startled Yin and rushed to squish the life out of Xi!

“Oh! My Xiao Xi. I missed you so much!”

TBC…     

Chapter Text

It was to the scene of Duanmu Xi being hugged till his soul was escaping out of his mouth, Zhangxuan and Siyun finally arrived.

Screaming like a maiden in distress, Zhangxuan rushed to skillfully separate the two. And then settle the paler than usual second young master onto the nearby bean bag chair. Frantically searching for that red paper fan Jinghua had randomly purchased during the Qixi festival*, Zhangxuan flicked it open and began fanning the smaller boy.

Yinzhe’s face was red with shame as he hung his head.

“I did it again…” he muttered dejectedly.

Yin took one look at his pitiful wife and his pale faced son, and wisely chose to remain quiet.

Yinzhe had always been a bit too fond of Xi. Yin knew that it was because they both had identical faces but he also knew that it was because of Xi’s innocent and forgiving temperament. Xi was practically Yinzhe’s dream child!

Yinzhe's only regret was that he did not birth the boy himself.

Realizing this, Yin had offered multiple times to impregnate him. But Yinzhe’s first reaction to his kind offer was to slap Yin silly and then lock himself in his bedroom for the rest of the day. Avoiding him as if he was riddled with the plague.

It took many years for Yinzhe to crack under Yin’s sheer persistence and when he did, it had been the most satisfying thing in the world to him.

They had both been friends for their whole lives but Yinzhe had never, not once, considered ever being more than friends. They were still friends even when they started having sex. At first Yin had feared that he would be afflicted by the hua tu bing but with no pains and no flower spitting, Yin had thought for a long time that maybe he really didn’t love Yinzhe. It was why he decided to marry another woman. He loved the Situ Madam and she loved him in return and thus their love blossomed.

But Yin had a lot of love in him to give, so when he fell in love with the Shenlong sister and another flower bloomed, he was perplexed.

Why?

Because the feelings he had for them were same as what he felt for Yinzhe. What he still felt for Yinzhe…

It was only when Yinzhe had held the pregnancy test in his hands, the small plus boldly telling them that he was carrying Yin’s child in his belly. Yin blossomed his third and last flower. Yin had fallen to knees that day and cried. He cried and cried until he could cry no longer.

His love was finally returned!

Huayu was his little miracle.

Of course neither of his other wives had been okay with this. After all how could a man be capable of childbirth? Much less being a wife!

Well, obviously it was because Yinzhe is a girl.

Yin doesn’t even comprehend how anyone could mistake his xingan** for a man.***

Hearing some weak groans, Yin’s first instinct was to cheek on Xi and then turn to Jinghua. Long dark lashes fluttered like butterfly wings before delicately parting. Stone blue eyes so unlike Ning’s plum purple but were equally enchanting. Yang Ning was his frail younger brother’s caretaker from an early age. Ning’s primary duties had been the happiness and welfare of Duanmu Luoye but the gentle and compassionate older boy treated all things equally. So whenever Duanmu Yin expressed feelings of loneliness or fear, Ning would gather both brothers in his arms and shower them with love and tenderness.

In a way, Yin considered Ning as his mother despite the other boy only being two years older.

Yinzhe’s opinion of Ning on the other hand… Was that of a soft-hearted push over.

For as long as Yin could remember, Yinzhe has always bullied Ning but that was because he liked him too and did not know of any other way to express it.

This treatment transferred over to Jinghua on both his and Yinzhe’s account. 

Of course Jinghua was not Ning. Towards Yin, Jinghua has grown cynical to the point it keeps Yin on his toes and it makes him commit less mistakes. Especially in his role as father. While it was a bit late to start spoiling and coddling his eldest children, he is trying to connect with them and spend time with them. Whether it be by attending family dinners, going shopping with them or asking about their day.

And then there was Jinghua’s eternal hot and cold attitude with Yinzhe.

Yin usually stays very far from the scene when these two are in the same room because whenever Yinzhe bullies, Jinghua bullies right back. Yin has to admit that the pure steel in Jinghua’s backbone from prolonged interaction with Yinzhe was a thing to be feared.

Oddly enough, when the aggression dies down. They’re both amiable and well-behaved like a pair of girl-friends who made up after a petty cat fight. As Jinghua’s godfather, the only thing Yin could do to appease Ning’s little brother and the little brother’s wife was to repair any damages the two had wreaked in the humble home.

But the one common and most defining trait Jinghua shares with his estranged uncle was his unbridled passion for taking care of others. This was first made apparent when Yin had impulsively brought Xi with him to visit the Yang family, one normal and sunny afternoon.

The two little boys, after an odd first impression, began gravitating towards one another after a round of games. Jinghua had declared them brothers for life! Showering Xi with genuine affection and care. It was the first time he’d ever seen his little son truly smile and laugh because of another person, who not his second wife.

This was a memory from eight years ago…

“Uncle Yin? Have you come back home?” Jinghua asked with dewy eyes.

Smiling gently, he freed one of his hands away from holding his baby girl, to brush Jinghua’s hair away from his face.

“Yes, but I won’t be here for much longer. I have another trip coming soon. But I am glad that I came back today. That's quite the nasty fever you have there, Xiao Hua.” He says mildly.

Weakly touching his own forehead, then moving to touch his neck. Jinghua breathed out deeply.

“Don’t feel hot though. Sorta clammy.” Jinghua spoke shortly.

Yin frowned and turned around to call Yinzhe, only to find his third wife and second son closer than he was currently comfortable with.

Impulsively, Yin gave Yinzhe a smooch and Xi another cheek tug since they were so close.

“When did you say the nurse would come?” he asked his partner.

Yinzhe pointed to the side where a young woman was brewing a bitter tea.

“She’s been here for a while now. Are you okay lao gong****? Do you need her to check you too?”

TBC…

Chapter Text

While his father was committing domestic violence for his wife’s earlier comment, Duanmu Xi had bypassed the man’s burly body and climbed onto the bed. When he came face to face with his target he noticed those dewy blue eyes riveted on the back of Duanmu Yin instead of him. This caused a faint resentment to bubble uncomfortably in his chest.

Without warning, Xi latched onto Jinghua from the front before abruptly rolling them both onto their sides. Forcibly removing Jinghua’s gaze from the older man.

Hearing a startled yelp, Yin, Yinzhe and the nurse snapped their necks to see what was wrong.

Yinzhe gawked at the sight, “Uhm… Xiao Xi, aren’t you too old to be clinging to Jing-Er?”

Xi frowned and buried his face into Jinghua’s heaving chest, growling out one word, “Mine!”

Yinzhe, Siyun and Siyao were completely dumbfounded.

Blinking stupidly, Yinzhe could only comment, “You sound like your father.”

This comment seemed to make the resentment worsen.

Frustrated to the point of tears, Xi reached out for Zhangxuan, calling for the taller boy with a pitiful voice.

Extremely distressed at the expression on his favorite person’s face, Zhangxuan blurred out of sight with how quickly he had moved. Next thing everyone knew, there were three boys crammed onto the small mattress like sardines in a tin.

Only Yin and the nurse were severely alarmed by Jinghua’s uncomfortable sobbing.

“What on earth are you doing to a sick person?! Young master Shenlong! Second young master Duanmu!” The nurse scolded. “Do you not wish for young master Yang to recover?”

Xi and Zhangxuan shared a long look that seemed to imply they were considering to reflect on their actions. But their following words were not an apology nor was it compliance.

Together they exclaimed, “We’re not moving!”

At this, they had angered the nurse beyond reasoning. She chased the unwanted extras, including a stunned Yin and Yinzhe, from the room so that she could fully tend to her upset patient. This resulted in Jinghua being propped up to swallow the medicinal tea she had prepared especially for him after calming him down.

Smacking his lips with an extremely disgusted face, Jinghua thought that this was the nastiest brew yet.

Glancing casually at his clock, the pale faced Jinghua turned to stare imploringly at the nurse.

She cocked an eyebrow, “Yes, young master Yang?”

With glittering puppy eyes he asked, “Oh beautiful goddess! Would it still be possible for me to attend classes today?”

The nurse narrowed her almond eyes, “Which classes?”

Jinghua, “My day classes.”

She deadpanned, “In your condition?”  Jinghua felt as though he’d heard this line before.

“Do you really enjoy courting death?” she groaned.

Jinghua pursed his lips into a tight bloodless line at the accusation.

“Sister nurse, my GPA is already bad and it’s only getting worse the longer I keep staying home. I cannot afford to miss anymore classes.”

Looking unimpressed she exclaimed, “Of course you can! Young master Yang, you are receiving advanced studies from the internal training classes just like all the other young masters and mistresses. You don’t even need to attend school so seriously. The only excuse for you to be attending at all is for social interaction purposes!”

Jinghua gave her an infuriated look.

“You’re wrong! I’m not like the young masters and mistresses here! I did not live this kind of life since young. I was just a normal boy! My parents did not wish for my coming here, they didn’t want me to be chained down by the Duanmu family. Not like uncle Ning…" he shook his head. "Besides, even if I’m trying to keep up with everyone, it’s still impossible for me. I can’t even concentrate anymore. Hell, I can’t even remember most of the things I'm taught!”

The nurse winced, “My apologies. I seem to have forgotten that your condition is still quite unstable. You have only been living here for just under a year, so adapting must be very hard for you.”

Patting his hand, she continued. “But you know, despite being here for such a short time despite your circumstances. We can’t imagine not having you around. You’re quite special to us young master Yang!”

Turning his gaze away he spat, “Special? What special?”

Shaking her head sadly, the dorm nurse began her usual poking and prodding. When Jinghua let out a sharp hiss, she froze.

“Does your lower stomach still hurt?”

Jinghua’s face had paled.

Staring at his red rimmed eyes, she asked as delicately as possible.

“Earlier, when you were tossed about and pressed against, were you crying from the pain? Or from fear?”

Jinghua’s chest heaved while he pressed his fingers against his mouth. The nails almost digging into his face!

Seeing this, the nurse let out a startled cry and tried to tug his hands away.

“I was scared! I knew that it wasn’t t-those people who were on t-top of me, but I c-couldn’t calm down…!” he suddenly whispered in terror.

“Being close to others. It's still fine. B-but being pushed down with someone else’s weight restraining me...” he let out a gasping cry as his tears finally spilled. “It’s scary.”

The nurse felt her heart tear open with compassion as she watched the young boy curl into himself. His body shaking savagely from raw fear.

Impulsively, she ran her fingers along his long navy hair. Softly comforting him even as he shook harder, a litany of ‘no’s pouring past his lips. It struck her as strange.

Abruptly, her eyes widened in realization as she took in the familiar signs.

Yet before she could even run to grab the tranquilizer from her bag, Jinghua’s face suddenly shot up. Back straight and rigid, pupils the size of pinpricks and breaths coming in short wheezing puffs.

“N-no...” he wheezed. “NonoNonONONoNoOOO!!! MOM!!!”

Jinghua started screaming.

Seeing his nails go back to digging into his face, the nurse snatched his wrist in a vice. Her face became red from the effort of forcefully holding him down.

“No! NOOO!!!! Stop it! STOP IT! DON”T HURT THEM!!!” he screamed shrilly, trying to shake off the phantoms of his memory from holding him down. The nurse felt herself tearing up inside.

Hearing Jinghua’s sudden screams, the father and son pair burst into the room with pale faces full of apprehension.

Seeing them charge in almost brought tears of relief to the nurse’s eyes, “Master Duanmu! There is a tranquilizer in my bag! Bring it! Hurry!”

Duanmu Xi shouted, “Never mind her bag! I have one!”

Widening her eyes, the nurse indeed remembered giving out a few syringes to five other individuals in case of emergencies!

The two wasted no time in rushing to aid the woman.

Yelping from the sudden force of Jinghua’s struggling, the nurse ordered, “Hold him still!” while snatching the shot away from Xi’s shaking hands.

“No! Daddy don’t do it! PLEASE! MOMMY!!!” Jinghua cried, eyes wide open and empty. His clear gaze was dull a grey.

Yinzhe stood in the doorway in muted horror. What triggered his flashback?! His eyes darted around the inside of the room. Nothing should have triggered it!

Was it because of that medicine’s side effects or something?!

Suddenly Jinghua’s begging cries ceased and the pained cries began. As if whatever had been hurting his parents were now hurting him instead.  

Just as the red head was about to step into the room to help his husband and son, he remembered his daughter who was now slowly starting to wake up.

Scalp tingling, Yinzhe passed his baby girl to a terrified Siyao and told her to go somewhere quiet with his child. Siyao nodded quickly and ran off.

With that matter settled, he dashed into the room to hold down Jinghua’s legs that were kicking out at the frazzled nurse and not his phantom assailants.

Sobbing frantically through his pain Jinghua called out brokenly, “Som..ebo..dy… pl.ea.s…e.” before breaking out into a harsh coughing fit.

Yanking down the jacket zipper of the boy's uniform, Yin exposed a smooth shoulder before securely holding onto Jinghua’s upper body while Xi held down his stomach and thighs.

“H-h..o…t! Fi..r..e.” the boy spoke through wheezing coughs.

His body stilled for just an instant, as if he had seen something shocking.

Seeing her chance, the nurse quickly removed the safety plastic from the needle and stabbed it precisely into the meaty part of Jinghua’s upper arm. The amber liquid entering his bloodstream. Jinghua gurgled in confusion at the poke. It took less than 30 seconds for the drug to render the boy completely immobile. His fierce struggling becoming no more than mere full body twitches as his breathing began to calm.

Yin quickly released his firm grip on his god child and winced at the sight of bruises on the boy’s wrists and the deep red scratches on his face. Tear stains sullied the boy’s flushed cheeks and a line of drool escaped his lips into his clothes as it dripped from the chin.

Duanmu Xi stared past Jinghua’s deathly still body and into the boy's empty gaze. Xi's heart felt as though it was being ruthlessly crushed. 

Yinzhe side eyed his favorite child with a gaze full of pain. He knew full well that Xi would never abandon Jinghua in his time of need and vulnerability. Yet every time Jinghua snapped, Xi would bear the brunt of the situation. Taking it to heart and blaming himself for being the cause of it. He also knew that Xiao Xi wanted nothing more but for time to turn back.

To Yinzhe, it was a miracle that Xi and Yin had even arrived before the house had been completely engulfed by the roaring flames.  

TBC…      

Chapter Text

In the luxurious office of the Duanmu manor, sat an exhausted pair. Their hearts were tested by the fates and they had failed to keep a clear head. Now here they sprawl, without a care for anyone barging into the room to witness their disgraceful state.

Yinzhe who had taken over the sofa, lifted his arm from his amber eyes to stare at his listless husband. The man completely lost in his thoughts.

From what Yinzhe had been informed, Yin and Xiao Xi had been planning to surprise the Yang family with a visit the very day the incident had taken place. The duo had been out shopping and his husband had been tolerantly watching their son fuss about which game, or what snacks to buy for his childhood friend. By the time they had finished their shopping and was finally driving their way to the humble home, Ning’s brother and sister-in-law had already been murdered, leaving a beaten and half-dead Jinghua to die by the very fire the criminals had set before fleeing the scene.

According to Yin, when they’d arrived Xiao Xi hadn’t hesitated at all when dashing into the burning building to rescue the other boy. Of course his husband hadn’t stood idly by like an idiot, the man had rushed in after his son determined to drag his child back out where it was safe. With a handkerchief pressed to his face, he ran around dodging the leaping flames. It was rather easy to find his child, because of Xi’s crying.

But the moment Yin had entered the burning study, his gaze landed instantly on his son who was desperately trying lift his bloodied and broken friend onto his back.

His husband had been terrified at the sight, the man did not bother to looking around for other survivors. He just grabbed his son and injured god child to madly dash out of the house before it could have had the chance to collapse on top of them.

After delicately securing the two ten year olds, he quickly dialled for an ambulance, the police, and the fire department in that order.

The criminals, as they had been informed by the police, was actually a group of radicals whom his husband had exposed for their crimes in embezzlement and fraud. The police had confirmed that the group had wanted revenge, but since no one could cause trouble within an inch of the Duanmu estate, nor the families tied to them. The group, after much digging, had uncovered the existence of the Yang family.

A much beloved but weak family that was constantly visited by the family head, and coincidentally living apart from the Duanmu family’s protection!

Yinzhe had watched Yin wrack himself with guilt every day the longer Jinghua refused to regain consciousness and stayed on life support. Many times, the boy’s body had given up on him from the severity of the internal damage and what the smoke had done to his lungs. His condition was too unstable that it lead the nurses to constantly having to rush into the child’s room to resuscitate him. Ceaselessly fighting against Yanluo* to keep the young boy alive.

Both Yin and Xi had been traumatised by the many times Jinghua had ‘died’.

His husband developing a mild habit of checking Jing-Er’s pulse whenever he sees him, and Xiao Xi sticking closely as if making himself a solid barrier between Jinghua and the world.

It was two months later when Yang Jinghua was finally able to regain consciousness. He was confused and severely weak but both Yin and Xiao Xi were overjoyed at the fact that he had awakened at all. Yet their joys was meant to be short-lived, because the moment the doctor had brought up his parents and how they had died, Jinghua experienced his first and most terrifying dissociative flashback.  

Yinzhe had also been there during this incident along with the Shenlong boy who had been both curious and excited to finally meet Xi’s childhood friend that was until they both heard those tortured and blood-curdling screams.

The strong, cheerful and caring boy that he had always known, disappeared right before Yinzhe’s eyes.

What was left had been nothing more than a tortured shell that would never truly recover from the despair that it had suffered.

But it was thanks to this incident that the doctor had made his final diagnosis.

Yinzhe smiled bitterly. The only good thing that came out of being diagnosed with ‘uncomplicated PTSD’ was Jinghua’s repressed memories of the murder. But because of that repression his ability to remember things was affected. Making it extremely hard for the boy to learn anything new. Even his sleeping habits suffered a big hit due to the constant night terrors.

Jing-Er would have become an insomniac if it weren’t for Xiao Xi’s constant presence, and those prescribed sleeping pills. The strongest ones available!

Yet it did not end with just that. His trauma had even affected his moods. Jinghua would often switch around with emotional numbness, rage, and his normal state when around familiar faces. When he isn’t around those he is familiar with, Jinghua becomes painfully distant to others.

It took the Shenlong boy three months of visiting with Xiao Xi to finally get Jinghua to warm up to him and even longer for them to really become friends.

Rolling onto his side, Yinzhe thought about the time Jinghua was discharged from the hospital.

Approximately five to six months of being laid up in the hospital, undergoing treatment, attending physical therapy and numerous consultations. Jinghua had been cleared for discharge with strict instructions to always take his medications, and avoid anything that might trigger an attack. Yin and Yinzhe had studied these triggers diligently, and so did Xiao Xi and the Shenlong boy who both vowed, one week before the Jing-Er’s discharge, to always be there for each other.

These triggers included things like watching something being burnt or seeing live flames, experiencing any high levels heat on the skin, being surrounded by large groups of people, watching other people get hurt/beaten, smelling fuel or anything strangely scented, enduring heavy pains and to some extent, talking about his parents.

If they were lucky, Jinghua would just pass out or get a little violent. But if they were unlucky, Jinghua would get stuck in a severe flashback that would leave him bedridden for days.

And that was exactly what happened today.

Hearing two sharp raps against the office door, both Yin and Yinzhe sat up quickly and made themselves presentable.

“Come in.” called his husband.

Seeing that it was the nurse, both men sat straighter as she stood solemnly at the center of the room.

“Report!” Yinzhe barked impatiently.

“Young master Yang had regained consciousness at the time of eleven forty-five. A brief examination was conducted by myself and my assistant and we have decided to rule his current state as 'stabilized until further notice'.” Taking a deep breath she continued, “During questioning of the patient, we have been made aware of his memory suppression. All memories, with regards to this morning’s incident and some hours from the previous day, have been wiped clean.

“I humbly advise for young master Yang to remain in bed for two days, and to consume lots of liquids in that time. His body has weakened considerably, especially from his earlier fever added to the continued discomfort of his recent rape.” She finished with a bow.

Yinzhe’s eyes rounded in an instant, his mouth falling open in shock. It was as if his mind had crashed into the blue screen of death.

He stiffly shifted his gaze to his frozen husband. The other man's silver gaze was wary.

What?”  Yinzhe asked in a daze.

The nurse seemed unsettled by his alarm and rose her head to stare questioningly at the family head.

The man shook his head helplessly. He turned to speak to Yinzhe.

“I did not tell you anything. Because if I did… You would have abandoned our negotiations with the Xing Corporation, and booked the first ticket back to commit murder on the ones who touched our Xiao Hua.” 

Yinzhe felt his rage spontaneously explode at his husband’s complacent words.

Standing suddenly, “Of course I fucking would! JING-ER IS MY FAMILY!” he screeched.

“Were the fucking negotiations so much more important than him?! You do realise that if ANYTHING happened to Jinghua, your son would never recover! Right?! How could you ju-” abruptly cutting himself off, Yinzhe tilted his head ever so slightly and though back on Xiao Xi’s attitude since his return.

He gazed suspiciously at his husband.

Wait… Does Xiao Xi even know about this?”  

His husband’s fists that were clenched with violent restraint, slightly relaxed. “Xiao Hua only told the nurse and I of last week’s incident. He made us swear not to tell anyone else.”

Yinzhe rocked back and fell heavily onto the sofa, “Why?”

Yin leaned forward onto the desk as if to follow his fall, “Why else but for shame?”

The nurse’s eyes narrowed fiercely as she added, “Do not worry Master Yinzhe. I collected the samples of semen for the rape kit and sent them to be investigated by the officers that Master Duanmu had sent. There is also the fact that despite young master Yang not knowing who the boys were, he was able to recognize their uniforms from the nearby high school. This information was also reported to the officers.

“I surmise that this matter would wrap itself up shortly with justice served.” She ends assuredly.

High school…? Yinzhe’s eyes bulged. No wonder Yin did not tell him anything!

“Teenagers?!”

Yin’s expression was bitter as he added, “Cocky teenagers at that.”

The nurse could only shake her head, “In any case, I made certain to keep a closer an eye on the young master after he had come to me about this matter. I even gave him some ointment and painkillers that would not cause any problems with his current medication. What I wasn’t aware of was that his medicine had been changed!

“Combining the bad mix of pills, his pains and the stress of recalling his rape, it triggered a repressed memory of his mother in the same situation during the murder and arson incident.”

Duanmu Yin and Yang Yinzhe felt themselves go abruptly numb, the two slowly processing what the nurse had just implied.

“Jing-Er… He… He w-watched sister…!” Yinzhe didn’t say anymore, only covered his pale horrified face and screamed into his hands.

TBC…

Chapter Text

The boy leaning casually against the door to the family head’s office, pressed a finger to his lips letting out a shushing sound towards his family member that was sent to the Duanmu estate as a professional bodyguard.

The guard knew that the second Shenlong young master would not cause any trouble for the family head so he decided to keep his lips sealed about the boy’s eavesdropping. It wasn’t anything confidential after all. He nodded to the boy, and the boy in question gave him a grateful nod in return.

The boy pushed away from the door, no longer needing to listen in, so he quickly vacated the hallway, and the manor entirely.

While the boy seemed completely unaffected and stoic on the outside. Zhangxuan had been more than shocked when he heard the nurse casually mention Jinghua’s rape. Immediately connecting the other’s sudden lack of initiating body contact and jumpiness to the act. Thinking back, this had been going on for a number of days already, with Xi and Zhangxuan being none the wiser.

If they had only paid more attention, if he had paid more attention, then maybe they wouldn’t have forced Jinghua to shed those tears of distress.

Granted, even if Zhangxuan had been aware of the discomfort the boy was suffering, Xi was currently both blind and deaf to the other boy’s turmoil. Which was very unusual since A-Xi was usually very attentive of Jinghua, but this time he hadn’t been careful at all!

Pausing in his stride, he recalled the look A-Xi had on his face after seeing Jinghua interact harmoniously with the family head.

If Zhangxuan didn’t know any better he would have chalked it up to possessive jealousy.

But for as long as Zhangxuan had been around Xi, he had never showed any romantic interest towards anyone. Also the surgical scars on A-Xi’s chest were several years old, and had been on his body long before Zhangxuan had become friends with him. Meaning that the other boy had lost the ability to love since young.

He absently wondered how old A-Xi had been when he’d fallen into an unrequited love. This thought brought Zhangxuan back to A-Xi’s relationship with Jinghua.

The two were obviously childhood friends, close enough to be brothers, but with mixed signals coming from Xi.

When Zhangxuan had brought up A-Xi’s weird behaviour to Jinghua, the boy’s face had actually turned a distinct purple. Because according to Jinghua, A-Xi was a casual flirt since day one. Sweet talking anyone without the knowledge of actually doing so.

Being flirted with by such a lovely child, there were bound to have been many unintentional admirers.

When he was told that there were many attempts from strangers in luring A-Xi away, Zhangxuan had paled to the colour of freshly fallen snow. It was after having to rescue a naive Duanmu Xi from many of these attempts, Jinghua couldn’t take it anymore and harshly reprimanded Xi on the manner of his words when speaking with others.

Jinghua thought that he must have scolded him wrongly because even though A-Xi had adjusted his speech with others, his usual flirting habits remained unchanged in front of Jinghua.

It gave many people the wrong impression on the nature of their relationship. This included Zhangxuan and anyone else living in the Duanmu estate, even though they knew that it didn’t really mean anything.

Exiting the Duanmu manor through the back door, Zhangxuan skirted to the hall where the sick bay was located. He hurried into the building and approached the third door, giving it his signature triple knock.

A-Xi excitedly opened the door, silver eyes shining.

“You’re back!” he exclaimed.

Jinghua weakly smiled in Zhangxuan’s direction, “What did she say?”

Zhangxuan kept his expression natural, “She told them that she was going to confine you to the bed for two days.”

A-Xi’s eyebrows shot up while Jinghua wrinkled his nose in suspicion.

“Only two days?” Jinghua inquired.

Zhangxuan casually shrugged as he plopped himself into a chair next to the sick person’s bed.

“I was surprised too. I would have thought she’d keep you on lock down for longer.” He casually admitted.

Jinghua made a croaky sounding groan in response.

“Maybe she’s showing you a little mercy?” Xi states questioningly.

Zhangxuan and Jinghua, “Doubtful!”

“My GPA is definitely in the pits now. I’m gonna be held back another year at this rate.” Jinghua moaned as he weakly ran a hand across his face.

Seeming to remember something, A-Xi gave Jinghua a sympathetic look.

“You even had a test on the hua tu bing today. And you still have Fei Fei’s notebook. What are you going to tell her tomorrow?” Xi asked point blank.

Zhangxuan watched as Jinghua’s face gradually became filled with nervous sweat.

Jinghua slowly turned to stare A-Xi down with hazy stone blue eyes.

“What test? What flower spitting?? Fei Fei didn’t lend me a notebook…at least I don’t recall that she did.” he says uncertainly.

Both Xi and Zhangxuan knew that some of his memories from the previous day had blank spots, but they hadn’t expected it went as far back as his hours during school!

Jinghua wilted like a flower at their wide eyed gazes.

“Was my episode so bad that I forgot this much?”

Xi seemed extremely reluctant to speak but he still told Jinghua.

“I don’t know what set you off, but it made you actually remember something.” 

Jinghua, “Remember what exactly?”

Both Xi and Zhangxuan resolutely faced away from him.

Xi knew that the flashback had something to do with Jinghua’s parents and that was a trigger in and of itself, so he sealed his lips shut. But Zhangxuan was fully aware of the situation and only looked away because he felt guilty for knowing more than he should have.

Jinghua really wanted to ask, but the boy was still groggy from the tranquilizer and he knew that asking would only cause more trouble than it was worth so seeing that he wasn’t going to get an answer anyway, he just muttered a ‘never mind’.

Xi let out a frustrated sigh, “Can you even do it?”

Zhangxuan and Jinghua cocked an eyebrow in confusion at the sudden odd question.

“Do what?” they asked.

Briefly giving Zhangxuan a laughing look. Xi pointedly looked at Jinghua and asked, “Can you actually remain in bed like a good boy and not cause any trouble for us?”

Zhangxuan immediately bit the inside of his lower lip to prevent his traitorous mouth from transforming into a shameless grin as he waited patiently for Jinghua’s response.

Cheek swelled into a pout, Jinghua looked away from their poker faces.

“I make no promises.” He eventually bit out.

TBC…

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Li Fei Fei found herself parked on Jinghua’s usual spot where he would wait for his two friends from that stuffy private academy.

At first, since the death of his parents, Fei Fei thought that he was being taken advantage of by outsiders. But after stalking them a couple of times, they actually seemed like good people. Not just that, with her sub-par hiding skills the two had actually noticed her presence early on and kept their silence until they couldn’t anymore and called her out.

Jinghua had been rendered speechless when she snuck out from behind the brush and stood before them.

Fei Fei remembered how she had put her hands on her hips and boldly said, “I thought you were being bullied.”

Jinghua had done a double take, “Who is being bullied? Me? By whom?” he took a long look at the two boys standing protectively at his front and muttered, rather incredulously, “Bullied by these two??”

It was the first time she’d seen him look so disbelieving.

After losing the tense atmosphere, they’d been casually introduced to each other. Fei Fei as Jinghua’s classmate since elementary while the boys were introduced as Duanmu Xi, Jinghua’s childhood friend and the son of a family friend. And Shenlong Zhangxuan, a long-time friend of Xi who became friends with Jinghua while he’d been stuck in the hospital. She never met either of the boys during her visits so she was naturally suspicious of them.

After a round of questions and easy banter, Fei Fei finally relaxed.

They were warm and friendly and when the two hadn’t being paying attention. Jinghua had given them the highest compliment he could give to another human being. He called Shenlong Zhangxuan a dragon of good fortune. And then plainly called Duanmu Xi a god.

With a small smile, Jinghua had admitted that just being by their sides felt like he was receiving blessings.

Why?

Because who wouldn’t be happy if a god and a dragon were looking after them!

It was then that she had been told that Jinghua had been temporarily taken in by the Duanmu family in place of his paternal uncle. So Jinghua was living with the two boys and a few other young masters and young mistresses in a dormitory run by the family head.

She never did understand how someone like Yang Jinghua could stand being in the same breathing space as those rich kids, but it seemed that he’d developed a tolerance.

Even after meeting with and getting to know Jinghua’s friends, Fei Fei kept secretly observing him for a year. She was quite happy when she learned that Jinghua was being taken care of and living well. He had even been given a cell phone, one of the latest models that have yet to hit the public market! And was even given a generous monthly allowance so he could shop, or play around during his free time. Sometimes Fei Fei felt jealous of his luck but the manner in which he had received such luck, Fei Fei would never wish it upon another person.

Every day, even though Jinghua was fed well, groomed well, educated well… it was obvious to anyone with a proper pair of working eyes that he wasn’t the same carefree little boy he’d been before.

Fei Fei wouldn’t be a real friend if she couldn’t notice something as simple as that.

He hid it well, but his depression, lack of energy and delicate health could not be hidden from anyone in his class. Especially when an adult from the Duanmu household would call-in to the school, and let them know of Jinghua’s condition, along with how many days he would be absent for.

But the days that Jinghua would be absent for this time was just two days!

Fei Fei knew that the nurses and doctors from the Duanmu household were a paranoid bunch and would confine him for close to a week if they think it would help. So why would they let him be after just two days?

Fei Fei had the same thought as Duanmu Xi at first, that maybe they were being merciful. But even she would have found it oddly suspicious if she didn’t know the real reason why.

She bit her lip in self-hatred as she recalled the reason for her friend’s recent decline in health. That damnable incident one week ago when both she and Jinghua had snuck out of school grounds to buy a lunch, but came across a gang of unruly high schoolers on the way to the restaurant.

Fei Fei had just barely begun showing the gifts of womanhood but one of the boys took notice of her looks and tried to pull her away from Jinghua towards an empty alley.

Jinghua, ever the impulsive person that he was, jumped between her and the older boys and got into a fight for her sake. The high school girls who had been hanging to side noticed her being left alone and went to harass her, but Jinghua shoved Fei Fei away and told her to run. "And don’t look back!" he yelled.

In that moment she had obeyed without a protest and left Jinghua behind.

It was only when she’d gotten close to the secret passage to sneak back into the school that she realised how much of an idiot she was. Jinghua wasn’t well. How could she just leave her friend like that and not try to help?!

But Fei Fei knew that she was weak so what could she do but run away.

With gritted teeth, she snuck back onto the school compound, broke into the sports equipment storage room and grabbed a heavy baseball bat. Weapon acquired, Fei Fei left the grounds once again.

She ran and ran until her legs felt like liquid fire. And skidded to a halt in front of that same alley those high schoolers would have dragged her into, had Jinghua not intervened.

When she took in what was happening to her friend, Fei Fei’s sight became as red as blood. She couldn’t remember what she did to those older kids but all she could remember was carrying her sobbing friend on the small of her back.*

She couldn’t remember how she got them to the Duanmu household but it must have been the first place she thought to bring him despite not actually having visited before. When the guards at the gates had seen Jinghua’s miserable state, the two were immediately ushered into the estate for treatment. Fei Fei getting her blistered hands wrapped and Jinghua getting cleaned and questioned about what happened. It was only after Jinghua finished telling his side of the story, they asked for hers.

Fei Fei still cringes at the fact they’d called her parents to tell them about the situation. Her mother had been rightly horrified and had thanked Jinghua for his bravery but it was her father that told them all that if there was to be a court case. They would grant permission for Fei Fei to act as a witness to the crime.

While the Duanmus were thankful for the Li’s willing cooperation, they were merely told to forget about the matter and that the family head would deal with the situation.

The only reason Jinghua was allowed to attend classes the following day, was to hide the fact that anything happened. Fei Fei had been distraught at the mere sight of him sitting awkwardly in his chair under the effects of the strongest painkillers his body could handle. She wanted to help him, she wanted to make up for leaving him behind but Jinghua would only give Fei Fei an empty smile and tell her that he was sorry for making her feel that way.

Instead of her giving him comfort, she was the one being comforted!

It made her blood boil that he wanted to pretend that it didn’t happen. That he wasn’t hurt by what was done to him!

If he bottled it up, how was Jinghua expecting to overcome this mess?!

Crossing her feet and biting her lips so hard that it bled, Fei Fei wept in guilt.

A few minutes later, Fei Fei raised her red rimmed eyes to the sight of Duanmu Xi and Shenlong Zhangxuan staring at her in concern.

She scrunched her nose in confusion, “When did you guys get here?”

The cute one responded to her question with an amused smile.

Duanmu Xi, “We just got here actually.”

The taller one with the wavy hair dug out a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.

She took it with an apologetic smile. “Thanks.” She said as she began dabbing at her wet cheeks.

“Why were you crying? Jinghua is fine you know. Just this morning he was causing trouble in the sick bay.” Zhangxuan informed.

This caused Fei Fei to choke a little.

“That little idiot!” she muttered venomously. “His stomach is going to start hurting again!”

The cute one frowned, “His stomach? You mean it’s still hurting from that fall he had?”

Fei Fei held back from instinctively trying to correct his question.

“Mm? Yeah... That one. He’s been holding his stomach in pain for days now! Why is he even making such a fuss?! This moron!” she covered up her earlier awkwardness with genuine indignation.

Duanmu Xi paled, “What?! Why didn’t he say anything about being in pain?”

Fei Fei scoffed, “Obviously it’s because he doesn’t our want help.”

Shenlong Zhangxuan, “He’s been shrugging you off?”

Fei Fei only bent her head forward, hiding the calculative glint in her eyes. If Jinghua doesn’t want her help then she’ll just send help in the form of his personal god and dragon!

Let them be the ones to nag him silly!

Duanmu Xi placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, “I’m not certain if you meant to tell us that, but I am very grateful that you did. You don’t need to worry. I will definitely make my stupid didi** listen to reason.”

He said it so confidently that both Li Fei Fei and Shenlong Zhangxuan almost believed him.

“Oh right! Before we leave…” Xi muttered as he dug into his backpack.

“Here!” he exclaimed, extending her notebook back to her. “Jinghua wanted us to return it to you since he was sure you would need it.”

Giggling softly she received it, “Thank you. But please remember to scold that troublesome idiot for me, and make sure that he gets better for real this time!”

Zhangxuan made a fist over his heart, “We swear it.”

Bowing to her, Duanmu Xi smiled stiffly and marched off in a hurry. Fei Fei stared at the immobile Shenlong Zhangxuan for a long moment and was about to ask him if he had something else to tell her when he cut her off with a suspicious, “You know about it, don't you?”

Fei Fei felt a coldness creep into her veins at his tone.

“His pain? Of course I know it. I am his classmate.” Fei Fei hastily exclaimed.

Giving her an odd look as if to say ‘that was not what he meant’, Zhangxuan shook his head before jogging after Duanmu Xi.

Her breathing was especially light as she watched him go. Fei Fei thought deeply about the way he worded his question and the only thing that she could think to explain it was, ‘he found out’!

Leaning back onto the bench she fiddled with her notebook for a while then reached into her pants pocket to retrieve her cell phone. She quickly found Jinghua’s number and clicked the message option to send him a text. She stared at the blank message in contemplation before finally deciding to leave her friend with a vague warning.

Li Fei Fei: A storm is approaching.

-SENT

Suddenly satisfied with herself, she switched off her phone, placed her notebook into her bag and left for home sweet home.

She’d listen to the idiot’s complaints of betrayal tomorrow.

TBC…

Chapter Text

Two adults blinked at Yang Jinghua as he stared at his phone in horror. Ten awkward minutes passed by and the words on the screen still remained the same.  

Xiao Jiejie*: A storm is approaching.

A storm was approaching? What kind of storm? Did she stir up trouble for him and was expecting him to deal with it? His Fei Fei wouldn’t be so cruel to him would she?

But really, just what sort of trouble was it?

Wang** Jing: Fei Fei? What was that message about?

Wang Jing: Hey! Don’t ignore me!

Wang Jing: Fei Fei! What did you do?

Jinghua bit his nails in anxiety as he realised something. She didn’t tell them the truth about what happened, did she?

Frantically he typed up multiple messages.

Wang Jing: Fei Fei please tell me that you didn’t tell them anything!

Wang Jing: If you did, there is no way Duanmu Xi would take this lying down!

Wang Jing: Fei Fei! I might not ever be allowed to go back to school!

Wang Jing: Please reply! Fei Fei, I’m begging you!

Not getting a single response from his classmate, Jinghua decided to call her number but the call went directly to voicemail. Swallowing thickly, he struggled to get out the bed. The IV access in his arm was troubling him so he impulsively ripped it out and weakly got onto his feet. But before he could stumble his way to the door, it was flung open by Duanmu Xi with a face that could scare a common man to his grave!

Jinghua almost screamed bloody murder when he saw the look on the other boy’s face. It was so terrifying!

This was the saying ‘if small holes aren’t fixed, then big holes will bring hardship’! Jinghua could feel his future slipping from his fingers the longer that angry face remained in his direction.

Jinghua’s legs were shaking so hard he could no longer stand.

Xi’s face became even scarier when a frown creased his brow, eyes automatically narrowing into slits.

“How could you not tell me anything?” he asked in a voice that was eerily calm.

Jinghua flinched hard and looked around the room as if searching for an escape route. Or some persons who seemed to have pulled a Houdini on him.

“There was nothing to tell!” Jinghua cried helplessly when he couldn’t find the adults with his eyes.

His response made the air surrounding Xi lower by degrees.

“You were suffering and you hid it from us.” He states coldly.

“What was the use of our oath if you don’t ask for our help?”

Jinghua snarled defensively, “There was no need for you to know about it. It wasn’t something you could deal with for me!”

Enraged, Xi couldn’t help but to take large steps into the room and roughly get down onto his knees in front of the collapsed Jinghua. The points of Xi’s fingers were pressed hard into his shoulders, not quite digging in.

“Yang Jinghua! Do you not know what your actions are causing? If you had told us we could have been more careful!”

Jinghua grit his teeth, “I’m not fragile glass! I don’t want to be looked down on by you for this!”

Xi raised his hand as if he were going to slap him but stopped himself halfway when Jinghua pulled away from him in terror.

“How could you ever think that I would look down on you?” Xi whispered while lowering his hand.

Jinghua quivered as that same hand settled gently on his cheek, “When have I ever given you the impression that I ever would?”

At his wronged tone, Jinghua couldn’t help but to feel guilt.

Feeling the other loosen his grip to wrap both arms around him. Jinghua peeked up through his lashes to look at Duanmu Xi’s face. Those thin lips were no longer set into contempt but remained slightly downturned at the corners, those clear silver eyes gazing sadly at him.

“Jinghua, I have never, not once, thought that you were weak. Even after everything that you have suffered through. I still feel the same as I always did for you.” His softly spoken words tickled Jinghua’s heart. “You are my protector, my best friend, and my brother. You mean the world to me and I always thought that I was the same to you. All the love and care that you have given to me… Can’t I return them to you, even a little?”

Jinghua’s hands laid limp on his lap as he rose his chin to directly look at Xi’s face. No hint of deceit or ulterior motives marred his honest features.

Jinghua watched Xi’s eyes became gentler the moment their eyes made direct contact.

Feeling his heart pick up speed, Jinghua let Xi’s face get close.

Closer and closer until their foreheads made contact.

“Why didn’t you tell us anything?” Xi asked softly.

Jinghua felt his eyes blur, “I… I cried and complained to the nurses but I didn’t want to burden…! Damnit! I didn’t want you guys to walk on egg shells when you were already walking on nails…” he uttered in frustration.

Jinghua felt warm as Xi tightened his arms around him.

“You’re a fool, Yang Jinghua.” Xi told him.

Cheeks dyed red, Jinghua pulled away from that warm embrace to yell at the other boy but froze at his doting look.

Xi, “You’re a fool that I adore.”

Jinghua and the three peeping toms felt their jaws drop at what the boy had said.

“Don’t say things that will make others misunderstand!” Jinghua couldn’t help but to shout.

Duanmu Xi only tilted his head in confusion, “But I love you. How else should I say it?”

If Jinghua had been younger and more innocent he would have swooned at the mere declaration. But now, he just slapped a hand to his own face and moaned in despair.

This was the exact reason everyone was under the impression that Xi is pining for Jinghua!

Jinghua put his hands on the other boy’s shoulders and begged, “Xi… Xi-Er Ge. Please have mercy on your didi.”

Xi frowned, “But I’m not saying anything wrong. Don’t you love me too?” 

Jinghua felt his soul making a hasty retreat to the heavens. He mentally grabbed the tail end of his soul before it could ascend, and jammed it down his throat from whence it came.

Returning to his senses, Jinghua became teary-eyed once more. “Of course I love you! I love A-Xi the most!” he spoke hastily.

The look of depression came and went like the wind. Duanmu Xi’s clear smiling face shining like the sun.

Feeling a sudden dizziness, Jinghua limply collapsed onto the other boy’s chest.

“My head…” he whimpered.

Slightly panicked, he searched Jinghua’s body and spotted the blood stains on both their clothing. The colour red standing out among the white of the fabric.

The access that Jinghua had impulsively ripped out was still leaking blood.

Jinghua felt himself being picked up like a baby and then deposited carefully onto the bed. Duanmu Xi’s distorted voice was calling for Zhangxuan to help him stop the bleeding.

And amid the ruckus only one question floated into his head.

Where was that flighty family head and his man-wife hiding?  

TBC…

Chapter Text

Long after Jinghua had lost consciousness, Duanmu Yin and Yang Yinzhe calmly exited the closet almost scaring Xi and Zhangxuan with their sudden appearance.

With a face full of nervous sweat Zhangxuan asked, “Why were the two of you in the closet?”

Yinzhe kept his mouth shut.

Yin, “We were watching the show.”

Xi and Zhangxuan felt disillusioned by the response.

Well, it wasn’t as if the two adults were about to admit that Xiao Xi entering the room in a blind rage had sent hiding them with their tails tucked between their legs. It would destroy their image as fearless men specially bred and trained by the Duanmu family!

While Zhangxuan was tending to Jinghua’s bleeding arm, Yinzhe turned to ask Xi.

“So why did you come in with such a temper? It’s not the first time Jing-Er has hid something from you.”

Zhangxuan and Yin perked their ears, eagerly waiting for a reply.

Xi did not disappoint as he fumed, “Jinghua hid being injured! He knows better than anyone that he can’t let himself get badly hurt. External injuries are fine. We can deal with that, but what if it’s internal?! Jinghua has vitamin k deficiency. Blood loss and pain are his worst enemies!”

Pacing restlessly he continued to rant, “Last week he said he took a little fall. I took a look at it and thought it was nothing much. I didn’t think it might have messed him up inside!” Xi suddenly cooled down. “But the way he reacted to my words… I get the feeling that it wasn’t a fall at all.”

Yinzhe bit his tongue to stop himself from telling Xi the truth.

Seeing that his wife was keeping his silence.

Yin decided to stir up trouble by suggesting, “Maybe he was bullied in school and he lied to cover it up.”

Yinzhe and Zhangxuan gave Yin a ‘wtf’ face.

Xi stopped his pacing in an instant causing both Zhangxuan and Yinzhe to go on guard. The small hairs on the back of their necks rose at the sudden wave of killing intent radiating from the second young master.

“Someone bullied him? Someone…” Xi’s eyes flashed with a cold light.

Zhangxuan and Yinzhe sent Yin urgent looks begging him to remedy the situation. Yin smiled rather oddly as he observed his son’s reaction before the boy himself turned to look at him.

“You know something? Did he tell you who they were?” Xi questioned with a trace of venom.

Yin, “Of course he did.” Before Xi could question who they were Yin waved his hand nonchalantly and said, “But the matter has already been taken care of.”

With a mysterious smile Yin continued, “Those brats won’t hurt him ever again…”

Despite his burning rage, the fact that his father had insinuated that he had committed a crime for Jinghua left him speechless.

All he could do was muster the courage to ask, “Why?”

Yin cocked his head curiously.

“Why would you be willing to do something like that for him?”

Yin smirked, “Because your didi is my god child. And I’d do the same thing if something like that ever happened to you and your siblings… Xi-Er. I may not be the greatest father in the world but if anyone lays a finger on my family… Death would be the kindest thing I would ever grant them.”

Silver eyes widened in shock, this was the closest his father has ever come to outright saying that he loved them. But not just that!

Jinghua was his father’s god child?! Was that why Jinghua always acted fond of his father?

Xi would have to ask Jinghua another day.

While what Yin said was true, the matter this time was not taken care of completely by him. Those teenagers that had assaulted his little god child had been killed by the boy’s female classmate.

Li Fei Fei.

According to the nurses, when they had questioned the girl, she admitted to being the one who beat up the teenagers. But when Yin had ordered a group to check on the juveniles to see if they had fled the scene. What his men found was an alley of corpses. It was a school day and most people were at work or having lunch during that time of the day so no one had noticed one brave little girl charge blindly into an alley to save her friend.

All Yin had done was to cover up the crime and get rid of the bodies.

He glanced worriedly at the boy tucked into bed and prayed that the results for the blood test would come back negative*.

TBC…

Chapter Text

When the adults had sent the two boys back. Jinghua discreetly lifted an eyelid to peer to the side, and saw a magnified face.

He swallowed his scream and dived to the side with a horrified look.

Yinzhe’s hysterical laughter rang throughout the room.

Jinghua watched his father’s cousin in contempt but let out a ‘pfft’ sound when Duanmu Yin slapped his wife across the head.

“What was that for you shitty husband?!” Yinzhe roared.

Yin deadpanned, “Don’t bully your family.”

Yinzhe raised an eyebrow, “So it’s fine if you bully me?”

Yin pointed his nose to the sky, “But of course. If I don’t bully you then I don’t love you.”

Jinghua, “Abuser!”

Yinzhe, “Sadist!”

Yin, “Those two words mean the same thing you know.”

Yinzhe and Jinghua, “They don’t!”

Yin smirked as he moved to give his wife a kiss, and his god child a head pat.

Jinghua gave the couple a bemused look, “How did the two of you even fall in love?”

Yin and Yinzhe, “We loved each other since birth!”

Jinghua bopped a fist into his palm.

He’d almost forgotten that they were practically raised as twins. Which was ironic considering that they both shared the same birth date.

Jinghua understood why uncle Yin loved Yinzhe. It was because Yinzhe was the closest non-blood-related female to him that saw him for him and not as the Duanmu heir. Add the fact that Yinzhe was a member of the Yang family and the two had been a match made in heaven. It’s just that Yinzhe never showed any interest at all in uncle Yin even when both had been accompanying Xi to play with Jinghua.

When Jinghua was four and had seen them together, they hadn’t been married at the time. But when Jinghua had turned nine, Xi had come over to visit him with an indescribable look on his face and promptly latched onto him for the remainder the afternoon. Seeming to be in shock.

It was after Xi had went home Jinghua had been told by his parents that his uncle Yin and Yinzhe were getting married and were incidentally having a child together.

Jinghua remembered being out of his mind with confusion when he’d heard that. His mother had always told him that only girls could have babies so he had immediately asked his mother if Yinzhe was actually a girl.

When she said yes, Jinghua had only uttered, “What a masculine aunt I have!” with a dumbfounded look on his face.

It was the first time he’d heard his parents laugh so raucously.

Coming back to the present he stared at the couple’s hua kai with a wrinkled nose.

“Then how come it took so long for your flowers to bloom?”

Yin stared at his third wife accusingly while Yinzhe gave a spiritless laugh.

“Denial is my middle name, kid. It took years to realise that Yin actually had feelings for me.”

Jinghua stared at him with disbelieving eyes, “How could it take you so long to realise it?! Uncle Yin was always so obvious about it! Even I could see how disgustingly in love with you he was!”

Yin nodded his head in fervent agreement.

Yinzhe, “De-ni-al.”

Yin and Jinghua, “…”

Scoffing, Yinzhe turned to level an accusatory look at Jinghua.

“Then what about you and my Xiao Xi? We saw the way he acted with you just now! Hell, when you two were younger you’d always end up kissing all the damn time!” His pointer finger jabbed Jinghua’s nose.

Nose wrinkled, Jinghua tried to chomp at the offensive finger. Yinzhe snapped his finger back with smug smirk.

Attempted failed, he ground out. “Do you even remember my reaction whenever he pulled that kissing stunt on me?”

Yin and Yinzhe blinked and thought for a second. Their actions completely in synch.

Their reactions however, were completely different.

Uncle Yin gave him a pitying look while Yinzhe started laughing like a loon.

“Oh! I forgot! Every time Xi kissed you, you’d fall on your butt and start bawling your eyes out.” Yinzhe snickered.

Jinghua’s face went beet red.

“T-that c-c-couldn’t be helped! I thought that I had to marry him!” he cried in embarrassment.

Yinzhe cackled, “Damn. Sister in law really played a cruel trick on you.”

Back then his mother’s word had always been law to Jinghua. So when she told him that kissing on the lips were meant only for married couples, Jinghua was naturally thrown into a panic when Xi casually pressed their lips together in a kiss.

“She didn’t mean it to be cruel.” He defended. “Mother just wanted me to grow up to be faithful.”

Yin chuckled lightly, “We know.”

He ruffled Jinghua’s fringe, “It’s a good thing that he stopped kissing you though. It would make getting a wife quite the hardship if Xi-Er kept courting you like that.”

Jinghua spluttered, “He wasn’t courting me! Not anymore at least...”

Yinzhe tilted his head in askance, “Are you implying that he was?”

Jinghua sighed and leaned back onto the fluffed up pillow, “I’m not even sure if Xi was courting me. It felt like he had feelings for me, but somewhere when we were six or seven, something changed.”

Yin’s easy-going smile stiffened.

Yinzhe cocked an eyebrow, “Everything looks the same to me.”

“Ugh. It’s not!” Jinghua frowned in frustration, “Before, Xi would get this odd excitement in his eyes whenever he looked at me. And the way he would touch me would be kind of gentle… Sort of embarrassing…” He added with a faint blush staining his cheeks.

“But now… There’s stoicism and firmness when there wasn’t any before… He’s still clingy but it’s more out of habit than anything else. Duanmu Xi doesn’t love me anymore. No matter how much he says that he does, it’s not the same as before!” Jinghua says point blank, gaze down casted.

Yinzhe almost swayed where stood.

“Jing-Er… I’m only asking… But do you have feelings for Xiao Xi?”

The question shocked Jinghua so much he lost consciousness for a few seconds. A frown slowly crawled onto his face. He appeared to be thinking deeply on the matter.

After two, nearing three minutes, Jinghua’s whole face crumbled into confusion.

“I don’t know.”

TBC…

Chapter Text

Before Yinzhe could say another word, his assistant opened the door and glared at him and his husband.

Her red painted lips turned down into a hideous frown, “Why is it that whenever you two return to the estate, you two always start procrastinating?”

Yin only smirked while Yinzhe didn’t even bother to look at her.

She stamped her high heeled shoe and huffed, “President Duanmu Yin, Vice President Yang Yinzhe. Please arrange yourselves. We have another business trip to attend, we are leaving for the airport in the next ten minutes.”

Her authoritative voice rang long after she had finished speaking and left. The slam of the door ringing in their ears.

Jinghua rose his eyebrows and commented, “Dresses like a hooker but she’s damn good at keeping you two from slacking off.”

Yin let out ‘pfft’ sound when he heard the word ‘hooker’ leave Jinghua’s mouth. The man quickly covered his mouth and looked away to hide his laughter.

Yinzhe on the other hand was offended at Jinghua’s comment!

“We don’t slack off! We just get distracted easily.” He rebuked.

Jinghua gave Yinzhe a bland look.

“Same thing really.”

Yin put a hand on his irate wife’s shoulder and only shook his head when Yinzhe turned to look at him.

“In any case we really should be getting ready to leave. No rest for weary, you know.”

Yinzhe rubbed his face agitatedly and stood up, “Damn it all… I’m going to see the kids and Huayu before we leave.”

Yin perked up at his daughter’s name and nodded eagerly.

He then turned to Jinghua and spoke strictly, “By the way, I extended you recovery time. In other words, you’ll be heading back to school starting next week. In the meantime, while you aren’t allowed to leave the estate, I left you with a job.”

Jinghua narrowed his eyes with amusement, “Babysitting the cousin?” he asked.

Yin nodded, “It shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise. I always leave her with you whenever you are on lock down.”

Jinghua groaned, “You make it sound like I’m in prison.”

Yin and Yinzhe, freakishly enough, shared the same dead eyed look.  

“Isn’t it?” they said.

Yinzhe wrinkled his brow, “Don’t you think the estate is the same as a prison?”

Jinghua casually said, “More like a gilded bird cage. But to each their own.”

Yin, “Accurate.”

Jinghua smiled weakly, “Thanks for improvising my cover story by the way. I really thought he found out.”

Yin blinked in surprise, “You weren’t ready to tell him. Of course I would divert Xi-Er’s attention.”

Yinzhe tugged his husband’s sleeve, “It’s almost time. Let’s go see the children quickly.”

Jinghua waved at them.

“Be safe and come back in one piece!” he called.

The couple gave him similar grins and waved him goodbye.

As the door shut with finality, all emotion quickly drained from Jinghua’s face as he sank limply into the sheets.

Pretending to be buoyant was tiring…

.

.

.

As Yinzhe and Yin were hurrying to the dormitory, Yinzhe kept sneaking glances at his husband’s worried face.

“What’s wrong?” he asked point blank.

Yin grimaced, “It’s about Xi-Er.”

Yinzhe, “What about him?”

Yin lowered his voice, “You recall how Jinghua said that Xi-Er’s feelings changed at around six or seven?”

Yinzhe cocked an eyebrow.

“I know why.”

At his husband’s prolonged silence Yinzhe rolled his eyes, “Aren’t you going to tell me the reason?”

Biting his lip Yin halted his stride and tugged his wife closer to whisper into his ear.

“When Xi-Er was five, he contracted the hua tu bing.” Yinzhe almost jerked away to stare at Yin with disbelief. “Second wife and I were too horrified when we saw the bloodied petals, we rushed him straight to the hospital to see how far the seed had grown. When the x-ray results came out we almost died from shock. Xi-Er was approaching the final stage!”

Yinzhe backed away for real this time. His favourite child had almost died?

Yin looked guilty, “We authorized immediate surgery to remove the roots. Xi-Er had hidden his condition for two years…”

Yinzhe… Xi-Er had been in love with Xiao Hua since the day they first met.”

Yinzhe sucked in a sharp breath, “Does Xi…?”

Yin wouldn’t look him in the eye, “He doesn’t understand right now. But Xi is my son. He’ll figure out what those scars on his chest mean sooner rather than later. If he hasn’t already…”

Yinzhe had a complex expression on his face.

Yin took a deep breath and exhaled everything. His tension and his guilt.

He gently held Yinzhe’s wrist and tugged slightly, “We have to hurry and say goodbye to the kids.”

Yinzhe followed his husband on autopilot. His mind running a mile a minute.

Xiao Xi had the hua tu bing. Xiao Xi was in love with Jinghua. He recalled Xi’s actions and words when he was around Jinghua and found no inconsistencies. It was as if he never had the disease and had his love killed off. It was a hard pill to swallow but Yinzhe knew that his Yang family always had deep relationships with singular members of the Duanmu family.

Just look at him and Yin. Hell, look at his cousin Ning and Yin’s younger brother Luoye! Sworn brothers or eternal lovers. It was always one or the other with their families!

Yinzhe compared Yin’s case to Xiao Xi’s and just could not understand!

Yin had loved him since forever and yet his husband never contracted the hua tu bing. Yinzhe loved him in return, but he denied himself the right admit his love for the other man. Xiao Xi had inherited his father’s overflowing love and directed it at Jing-Er.

But Jing-Er, he… He… oh.

“I don’t know.”

Yinzhe recalled the deep confusion on Jinghua’s face as he said those words.

Jinghua had not felt any romantic love at all towards Xi. It had never even crossed his mind because Jing-Er was just a simple-minded child at the time. He wasn’t smart and mature like Xiao Xi and he wasn’t as obsessive either.

Jing-Er was just too young to care about something like that.

But now…

Horror crawl up from the depths of his stomach as he snapped his amber eyes shut.

Yinzhe wished he could jumped back those few minutes and have his own lips sewn shut for asking Jing-Er such a question!

Duanmu Xi already lost his love, but Yang Jinghua still had his.

Yinzhe prayed in his heart that his words would not cause yet another tragedy for that boy.

TBC…

Chapter Text

Duanmu Xi donned a thoughtful look as he watched his father and third mother speak to his older siblings. The couple giving them honest compliments and quick hugs. Huayu was settled into Xi’s arms, his three year old sister was tiny for her age due to not receiving enough nutrients to grow properly while in Yinzhe’s womb. Fortunately even with the complication of under-nutrition, she was born completely healthy but with a slow growing rate. Her looks were similar to Xi but that was understandable since they both inherited their looks from their father.

But the more he looked at Huayu the more he noticed she looked like a certain someone else that wasn’t her mother.  

Xi always fancied the thought that if Jinghua and he ever had a child, they would look a lot like Huayu.

Freezing abruptly, Xi let out a slow breath and tried to forget the thought ever crossing his mind. He wasn’t a little kid anymore, fantasies like that weren’t logical.

A tiny hand touched his cheek, “Gege okay?”

Giving the little girl a small smile. “I’m okay. Can’t say the same for Jinghua though.”

Huayu puffed her cheeks, “Hua-Ge* sick again?”

Xi ran his hands through her long black hair and gave her a helpless look.

“Something like that.”

Zhangxuan saw the approaching Yinzhe and instantly lit a candle in his heart for the siblings.

Those strong arms that do not seem to belong to a woman enveloped the sibling pair, giving the two a bone crushing hug.

Huayu was unbothered by the pressure but Xi was another story.

Their father, the twins and Zhangxuan all watched as Huayu laughed happily while Xi suffered from the suffocation. Luckily for him, Yinzhe made the usual three minute hug, only twenty seconds long. Xi was quickly able to catch his breath and adjust his hold on his little sister before she could slip from his grasp.

Yinzhe smiled at them. “This trip will take quite a while but your dad and I will try to wrap things up as quickly as we can.”

Yinzhe looked directly at Xi, “Your mother and the mother of the twins will probably return before us. Do your third mother a favour and work together with your older siblings to make sure they do not get into any trouble.”

Xi sweat dropped, “I’ll try my best.”

At his simple response, Yinzhe grinned.

The red head fluffed his daughter’s silky hair, “And my cute Huayu…”

“Yes mama?” she giggled.

“I have a big job for you, I want you to stick to your Hua-Ge like glue. Don’t let him get into trouble or let anyone bully him. Can my baby do that for me?” Yinzhe said in mock seriousness.

Huayu’s emerald orbs that were flecked with amber narrowed in childish determination.

“Leave Hua-Ge to A-Yu! A-Yu will take good care of Hua-Ge!”

After that the family head and his third wife left the dormitory with promises to spend a vacation with them when they return.

That’ll be roughly a month from now, Xi calculates.

His mother on the other hand, would be back from her trip to Hong Kong in a few days, and the Situ madam would be returning a week after her.

He glanced at Zhangxuan, “It’ll be three days before mom and Jiu jiu** comes back right?”

Zhangxuan nodded with a mild smile, “On the third day, Ge ge and Jie jie*** will come back to Beijing on the morning flight.”

Xi still finds it weird that Zhangxuan is his mother’s youngest brother, making the other boy Xi’s little uncle. If people think it’s astounding that Xi is the spitting image of his father, then they’d never seen his mother and Zhangxuan standing next to each other!

Only Jinghua, who was as dense as a rock, never seemed to realise a thing when he randomly comes across the two of them.

Xi never mentioned anything to the other boy and neither did Zhangxuan. It was best not to confuse the poor soul.

Noticing the restless movements of his little sister, Xi set the girl down onto her dainty feet. The small girl smiled widely as she held his hand and tugged.

“Let’s go find Hua-Ge!”

TBC…

Chapter Text

Nine Years Ago...

One random morning while Xi was left completely alone and eating breakfast by himself. His father unexpectedly showed up. Two pairs of silver eyes made contact before Xi awkwardly dropped his gaze onto the remainder of his breakfast.

The silence was unbearably tense when the little boy realised that his father hadn’t decided to just walk off.

He quietly peeked at the man and felt suspicious when he saw the man’s considering gaze.

“Is there something I can help father with?” Xi asked point blank.

Startled, the man gazed at Xi as if it was his first time seeing his own son yet before the man could utter a single word. A ringing slap sounded as Xi saw a familiar red head arrive to bully his father. His father retaliated in an instant and tried to kick the other person. But Yang Yinzhe just dodged Duanmu Yin’s attempted assault and mockingly stuck his tongue out.

“Why are you standing here in a daze? My cousin and his wife cleared their busy schedules just for you! Time’s a wasting you dumb shit!” Aunt* Yinzhe growled.

His father only narrowed his eyes before swatting at the red head.

“Don’t use bad words in front of small children.” His father gruffly scolded.

Aunt Yinzhe was confused for a moment before she noticed Xi’s presence in the room.

He gave the red head a timid wave. This act caused his aunt Yinzhe to beam happily in his direction. He noticed his father giving the red head a peculiar look.

Noticing his staring, Xi flinched when his father looked at him and quietly went back to eating his breakfast.

Hearing a sigh, Xi heard his father’s magnetic voice address him.

“Xi-Er. Hurry and eat up. Its rather sudden but I’ll be taking you with Yinzhe and I to visit the Yang family.”

Xi felt as though lightening was striking from clear skies.

His father was taking Xi to accompany them on a visit? And to the infamous Yang family?! The same family that was rumoured to be the best of the best in the security and bodyguarding industry? The same family who had strong ties to the underworld?

That Yang family?

Xi dare not let his father and aunt Yinzhe wait. He quickly ate the last bit of his food and got up to follow after them.

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Xi privately admitted that he was quite nervous.

The only Yangs he knew were his aunt Yinzhe, who lived on the estate and uncle Yang Ning, who often came and left like the wind due to the circumstances of his jobs. They were really nice people despite looking like thugs. They never said bad things to him and were always trying to look out for him. Even now, his aunt Yinzhe was rubbing circles on his back. Letting him know that he should relax.

In the back ground, his father was speaking to Xi while he drove. Telling Xi about the Yang family and what the remaining members were like.

But what caught Xi’s attention was the mention of a child his age.

“I brought you with us because it's bad for the child to have no relation to children his own age. Among my three children you are the most suited to become friends with that person. Do not be frightened. Just interact with him the way you would interact with any other child.”** 

Xi couldn’t help but feel as if he were receiving a mission briefing. It was as if his father was telling him to be friends with this young master or face the wrath of his disappointment!

Xi felt a twinge of nervousness as he stared out of car window.

Xi had no friends. And no one wanted to be his friend, so he really didn’t know how to go about this. If at the very least he knew the procedures, Xi wouldn’t be so worried.

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9:25 AM

Xi had blinked in surprise while following his aunt Yinzhe, timidly holding onto the big warm hand as he was led into the cozy looking house.

He had been expecting to arrive at a grand manor with teeming security and bustling servants but there was none to be seen. And when his father rung the doorbell earlier, an elderly lady who was actually the head of the infamous Yang family, opened the door herself and greeted them energetically. He couldn't help but to feel sense of disillusion. 

But when she saw him, the old woman seemed to smile like the sun, triggering a sense of familiarity.

She sort of reminded him of uncle Ning.

He must have said that out loud because the woman laughed heartily and said, “It would be strange if I did not remind you of him. That globetrotter is this old grandma’s son!”

The old woman gave his father an amused look, “And where exactly has my boy gone off to this time? He barely had time to share a cup of tea with me before he was off again.”

His father gave the old woman a small smirk as she led them along.

“New York city.” he responded.

“Ah, the great America!” she chuckled. “Duanmu Luoye must be happy that it wasn’t Las Vegas again?”

Xi titled his head, “What happened in Las Vegas?” he asked with innocent curiosity.

The three adults couldn’t help to give the boy a blank look before bursting into frantic chuckles.

Xi’s cheeks coloured red.

Was he not supposed to ask?

Aunt Yinzhe calmed down first and said humorously, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. No need to trouble yourself Xiao Xi.”

Xi pouted slightly but did not make a fuss.

The old woman smiled at him again.

“Well I guess we should take you to the garden so you can meet that bouncy grandchild of mine. He will be your playmate for the day while your father and my niece…” she ruffles Yinzhe’s fiery red hair. “…talk with the other adults.”

She leads them to the back of the house and grandly opens the doors.

Xi was almost stunned speechless at the sight of colourful and vibrant flowers. Their fragrances dancing refreshingly in the wind. Sectioned off to the side, Xi noticed a small vegetable and fruit garden.

And a wee figure on their tippy toes picking some red cherries from a tree, carefully gathering the fruits into a bowl.

Just as the child stood flat on his feet, the old grandma Yang called out to the little boy.

“Xiao Hua! Hua Hua! The Duanmu boy is here! Come over quick.”

Xi watched the child flinch from shock and turn around to face them before hurrying towards the group.

Yinzhe still held Xi's small hand as they walked to meet the…

“A girl?”

Both Xi and ‘Xiao Hua’ stared at each other in shock as they had both spoken at the same time.

‘Xiao Hua’ gave him a puzzled once over and then rose his eyebrows.

“OH! It really is a boy! Your face is so pretty it fooled me for a second.”

The young and tender face held an honest grin as the boy extended a small hand for Xi to shake, “My name is Yang Jinghua! You must be Duanmu Xi right?”

Xi was somewhat flustered as he separated from his aunt Yinzhe, to grasp onto a hand as tiny as his own.

“Yes. I am Duanmu Xi. I hope we can be friends…” Xi responds softly.

Jinghua rose an eyebrow at his shy response but still kept up his grin, “Sure. We can definitely be friends. But! Only if you tell me why you thought that I was a girl too!”

Xi blinked in surprise. Was it that easy to become friends?

He titled his head and spoke honestly, “It’s because you’re super cute, and have long pretty hair. Like a fairy.”

Jinghua sputtered, “C-cute? And my hair is pretty?? Fairy???”

Suddenly the other boy’s fair cheeks burned red.

Feeling concerned, Xi said. “Your face is red. Are you feverish?”

The raven haired boy gasped and shook his head, “N-no! I’m fine!” Remembering the bowl in his other hand, the boy held it out as if giving a tribute.

“Uhm, I just picked these cherries!”

The boy shyly scratched his cheek. “After I wash them, would you like to have some with me? They're really sweet.”

Xi felt as though his chest was being tickled. This was first time another child fearlessly offered something to him.

It caused a slow smile curled his pink lips, “Sure.”

The other boy’s cheeks were becoming even redder, Xi was starting to get really worried. 

“Then after we snack, let’s play some games!” Jinghua says excitedly. “It’ll be lots of fun, I promise!”

The slow smile bloomed and lit up his whole face.

Xi nodded enthusiastically, the adults’ presence and his mission forgotten.

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11:37 AM

Xi and Jinghua were chasing after each other around the trees, giggling away as they ran around.

Xi’s heart pounded away from the rush and excitement of the game as Jinghua sprinted ahead of him. The other boy’s shimmering blue tunic drew his eyes to his long wind swept tresses. The boy was completely unable to hide.

Xi felt his heart pounding harder.

Jinghua laughed at him, “Come on Xi-Ge! Catch me if you can!”

With a sudden burst of speed brought about by the other boy’s luring. Xi caught up to other boy and tackled him to the ground. Both boys releasing laughs and giggles as they rolled about on the dry dirt.

Xi was acutely aware that the adults had finished their business and was watching over them. He absently wondered how much longer they had before his father decided to take him home.

The boys laid on the soft grass as they panted for breath.

“Xiao Hua! Xi-Er!” called old grandma Yang from the kitchen window.

The two boys lifted their little heads.

“It’s time for lunch! Come over!” she informed.

Jinghua sat up in an instant. Energetic as ever, he crawled over to Xi and tugged him onto his feet.

“Xi-Ge! Xi-Ge! We should hurry! If we finish quickly, we’ll get a big piece of pie for dessert!” Jinghua excitedly babbled as he tugged Xi along.

He was so cute, Xi gave into his urge to hold the other boy’s soft and tender hand. 

When Jinghua turned to look at him, Xi just smiled and asked, “What sort of pie is it?”

“A blueberry pie! Mama learned the recipe and wanted to try it out! Mama makes really tasty snacks! She's the best!” the other praised wholeheartedly, unaware that they had already reached their destination.

The brown haired lady with her hair in a bun blushed at her son’s unrestrained flattery.

“Xiao Hua! Quickly take your friend to wash up, so you two can eat!” she says in a fluster.

Xi realised that Jinghua must have praised her like that on purpose.

He couldn’t but smile tenderly at the other boy.

Jinghua must have felt Xi’s gaze on him because when the other boy looked at him and saw the soft expression on his face. Jinghua’s whole head turned bright red with steam escaping his ears!

The navy haired man, Jinghua’s father, rose an amused eyebrow at the odd reaction.

“What’s wrong son? You’re all red.”

Jinghua sputtered, “He looked at me weird!”

Xi felt shocked at his words and squished his own cheeks with worry, “Weird?”

He didn’t want to offend the other boy!

The other boy flung his head to look back and pulled away his hands from his face. “Forget it, Xi-Ge! Let’s go wash up!” Jinghua cried as he pushed Xi out into the corridor.

Xi let the other manhandle him into the restroom. The boys quickly began to dust themselves off, washing their hands and faces clear of dirt and germs. 

And even while using a towel to dry his hands, Xi just couldn’t let it go.

“Did I really look at you weird?”

Jinghua was flustered by his words and he stuttered a lot, “That’s not it! Just forget it!”

“But I offended you.”

The other boy did a double take, “Offended whom? The great me? Where did you get that idea?”

Xi frowned, “You told your dad I gave you a weird look.”

Jinghua looked as though he’d suddenly given up on life, tossing his little hands into air as he sulkily told him. “I was embarrassed alright! Your face… It looked the same as when mama looks at papa! It's weird.”

Xi roughly understood what Jinghua meant when he said those words, and was a little surprised at himself. He didn’t do it on purpose. 

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Just as the boys were savouring the first bite of their dessert, Xi’s father decided to speak up.

“Xi-Er.”

Xi turned away from the amusing sight of Jinghua’s cheeks puffed up like a steamed bun. “Yes, father?”

“After you’re finished eating. You’ll be returning to the estate, Yinzhe and I will be heading back to the company for business.” He spoke strictly as he usually did but the Yang’s all gave the man a strange look.

As if they couldn’t quite figure out if they had heard right.

But Xi didn’t really pay attention to them, his head was lowered slightly as he repeated, “Yes father.”

Jinghua gave him an oddly distraught look and moaned in complaint to Xi’s stone faced father.

“Eeeh?! Why don’t you leave Xi-Ge here with us, and then call someone to pick Xi-Ge up later!”

Xi was almost frightened to death when he heard the other shamelessly whine to his father like that.

As expected, his father gave Jinghua a deadpan look, “Can’t.”

The one word reply made the other boy sulk and push away his slice of pie. Obstinately folding his arms, the other boy sank in his chair and glared at Xi’s father from across the table.

It was so adorable Xi felt the insane urge to wrap him up and hide him somewhere.

“Then when are you going to bring him back to play with me?” Jinghua asked.

Xi blinked in surprise and turned to his father with wide inquiring eyes. Genuinely hoping to come again.

Jinghua was the first person his own age that genuinely wanted to be friends with him!

The look on his dad’s face was of severe disapproval causing Xi’s hopes to crash and burn. But before his father could open his mouth to say the words Xi did not want to hear, aunt Yinzhe slapped his father’s head for the second time that day.

This startled everyone at the table except for Xi, who was used to seeing the childhood friends fighting and arguing like cats and dogs. His father had a rather menacing look on his face as he stared down the red head.

Aunt Yinzhe fearlessly sneered in response, “You don’t scare me.”

When his aunt turned to face him, her face was much kinder and very doting as she told him. “I don’t really approve of you consorting with a weakling like Jing-Er…” “Hey!” Jinghua’s indignant yell was ignored.

“But if it makes you happy, I can arrange for the two of you to play for two Sundays of every month.”

Xi was about to express his heartfelt thanks but Jinghua ‘eeeehhh’d in distaste.

“Why just two days for the month? Can’t I just keep him here…”

Xi didn’t know if Jinghua was joking or not, but Xi was surprised to find that he did not mind that arrangement either. The other boy grinned at him and Xi’s cheeks coloured faintly.

Both his father and aunt Yinzhe spoke up this time, both saying a firm ‘no’. As was expected.

Jinghua pouted, “And why not? Xi-Ge has no friends!” this made Xi flinch.

And since he was not paying attention to his father and aunt, he missed the pained expressions that wrinkled their faces.

“It’s too terrible! If no one wants to be his friend then I will! I like Xi-Ge a lot!”

Xi’s heart began hammering as he thought, ‘I like you too.’

His aunt glared, “We love Xiao Xi too you know.”

Jinghua glared back, “But you’re not always there are you.”

Aunt Yinzhe’s expression completely crumbled and Xi felt bad for her since she was the only one, other than his own mother, to love him as much.

He lightly touched Jinghua’s shoulder and the other boy looked at him poutily.

“It’s fine. Two days for the month is really generous. I'm really grateful. And you should be too.” He tried to placate.

Jinghua was aghast, wanting to argue but the pleading look he was giving to the other must’ve worked because Jinghua wilted with a spoiled groan.

Xi couldn’t help but smile again.

“Let’s finish eating okay. Besides, even if we can’t play as often. We can always call each other on the phone.” Xi offers as a compromise.

Jinghua groaned again, “But I’m not tall enough to reach the phone on the wall.”

Xi was puzzled, “Don’t you have a cellphone?”

Jinghua was puzzled too, “What’s a cellphone?”

Aunt Yinzhe turned to Yang couple with a shocked look on her face, “Why does Jing-Er not know what a cellphone is?!”

Jinghua’s parents sniffed and refused to answer her. Grandma Yang laughed heartily once again and only said, “Don’t worry. This old grandma will buy him one next week.”

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12:13 PM

Xi watched from the back seat of the car, on his knees, as his father drove further and further away. Until the sight of Jinghua on his mother’s hip completely disappeared from his sight. Xi felt his brows wrinkle and his chest begin to hurt.

He could only rub his chest and dispiritedly plop himself down to sit properly.

His aunt Yinzhe who was sitting next to him, rubbed his hair comfortingly. “Come now, you gave that grandma your number right? You just have to keep your phone with you and wait for a call.”

Wait…? Waiting seems like a nightmare all of a sudden.

Xi wilted a little and gave his aunt a sad look, “I miss Xiao Hua already.”

Unknown to Xi, his father twitched in the driver’s seat with an uncomfortable look on his face.

His aunt Yinzhe smiled helplessly at him, “You really have taken a shine to that little weakling haven’t you? Already calling him so affectionately.”

Xi nodded fiercely, “I like him. I like him a lot.”

His aunt Yinzhe could only laugh, “Alright, alright. Don’t worry, okay? I’ll make sure to take you to visit Jing-Er more often later on.”

Xi’s eyes widened and sparkled with hope.

“Really?” Xi couldn’t help but to ask.

“Of course! A Yang never breaks their word!” His aunt grinned and messed up his hair.

Although he was happy enough to sing, a strange feeling in his chest kept his reaction mild. "Thank you!" he says politely.

Leaning against his aunt Yinzhe, Xi pondered over reason for the faint discomfort. Not finding anything strange in his memory, Xi could only give up and label the numbness as him being tired from playing too much.

With that thought in mind he closed his eyes but did not sleep.

The seed took root!

 

Chapter Text

Surveying the silent dorm, Zhangxuan began chuckling wryly.

Everyone was either at school (Xi & Siyao), attending daylight training classes (Siyun & the other young mistresses/masters) at the inner courtyard, being watched over at the main manor (Jinghua & Huayu) or were out on trips (the adults).

But today, a certain pair of siblings were returning to Beijing and Zhangxuan had been tasked to receive one of them at the airport.

A-Xi would definitely be pleased when he got home from school.

Wearing a casual dark ensemble and a pair of black loafers, Zhangxuan calmly exited the dorms and made the long walk to the gates of the estate where a low-key car was parked.

His elder brother was always one to show off his wealth but his older sister was a bit too self-conscious about her position as a person with power.

Always wishing to avoid any kind of troubles if at all possible.

Which was why Zhangxuan had unearthed the least flashy, and most inexpensive outfit that he owned. He hoped that at least from a bystander’s point of view, it would only look like a normal woman being escorted by her younger brother.

Fiddling with his phone, Zhangxuan got into the backseat of the car with a discreet nod to his driver.

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At the airport, Zhangxuan’s eyes lit up when he caught sight of his older siblings’ approaching silhouettes.

As they got closer, he noticed that Xiren was wearing a crisp mint green suit while his sister was wearing a plain lavender polo dress. When the pair stood next to each other it was like the difference between light and darkness!

And it was quite literal too.

Sometimes Zhangxuan wondered about their family’s genetics. Zhangxuan and his sister looked alike with their dark hair and dark eyes but Xiren looked like a character straight out of Jinghua’s favourite RPGs.

Xiren was only in his early forties but his brother had a full head of white hair and luminescent light grey eyes.

Apparently, among certain members of the Shenlong family, they start gaining white hairs and lighter eye colours while growing up. Usually during the adolescence period. This was true for Xiren, and for A-Xi as well, whose hair had already began sporting the salt and pepper look. His sister often lamented her child having inherited the damnable gene.

Their elder brother stuck out from the crowd like a beacon that constantly drew in attention. The many wandering individuals in the hubbub giving the man an odd mix of furtive and admiring glances.

Zhangxuan felt his teeth hurting just from imagining his little A-Xi going through this sort of situation.

His elder brother gave him a discreet nod as he casually separated from their sister, exiting the premises of the airport with his subordinates nipping at his heels.

Zhangxuan deadpanned before shaking his head to instead focus on his sister.

Jogging up with excitement, the Shenlong siblings met each other halfway and shared a tight hug.

“How’s my baby brother been doing?” she questioned customarily.

Zhangxuan laughed, “Been busier than usual. How about you?”

Huffing lightly, “Tired to death. I just want a long bath and some time to sleep off the jetlag.” She replied.

Rubbing her back as comfortingly as he could, Zhangxuan nudged her to follow him to the little car while relieving her of her burdensome luggage.

“I am sure the conference must have made you interact with some annoying characters. But don’t worry, when we get back to the estate you’ll get your well-deserved bath, and a hot meal afterwards.” Zhangxuan says smilingly.

She giggled tiredly, “Ah yes, I almost forgot about food.”

After a bout of silence she spoke up again.

“…how has Xi been doing? Yinzhe called me a while ago and said that boy had another episode.” She reluctantly brought up.

Zhangxuan vigilantly watched the driver pop open the car trunk, passing off his sister’s luggage to the older gentleman and watching him stuff them in. The trunk closed with a slam.

Zhangxuan glanced at his sister’s pale face from the corner of his eye and sighed.

“He handled himself pretty well this time around. Jinghua too.” He said honestly.

His sister gave him a dubious look.

Zhangxuan puckered his lips, “You don’t believe me? This one has been stuck to their sides like glue to buffer any negative situations you know. A-Xi really handled it better this time but only because brother in law diverted his attention.”

His sister abruptly deadpanned, “What did my husband tell him?”

Zhangxuan huffed, “It’s better to get the full details from him. He can’t seem to lie to you.”

His sister gave a half-hearted shrug as they idly got into the backseat of the car.

The driver quickly got into his seat, buckled up and turned the key in the ignition.

Sighing softly as the car hummed to life, his sister did not bother to keep up her dignified appearance any longer. She slid down and threw herself onto Zhangxuan’s jean clad lap. He worried that the coarse material would make her uncomfortable but she turned to look at him with a satisfied smile.

“I missed you guys so much…” she murmured emotionally. “I’m glad to be back.”

Chuckling in response, Zhangxuan brushed back the long silky bangs from his sister’s face as the car was driven onto the lane.

“Welcome back Da-jie.”

TBC…

Chapter Text

While Zhangxuan and the second madam were on their way back from the airport.

In the Duanmu estate, Jinghua had been furiously texting Fei Fei on her lunch break while Huayu huddled into his side with a text book in her tiny hands.

Jinghua casually glanced at her from the corner of his eye and smiled at her diligence.

He used to be just like her when he was little. Always studying and training to make his parents proud. She’s truly a very smart and clever little girl, already at Jinghua’s current level in comprehension skills. It was only a matter of time before she surpassed him.

And that was saying something considering her current age.

For unlike the Duanmu training classes that only becomes mandatory for their children at age five, the Yang family would instead begin their training from the minute their children could walk. Yang Jinghua had been a fierce and prodigious child, his skills with the sword rivalling that of his uncle Ning.

The other members of their family weren’t bad either but it was obvious that they were outclassed by Ning and Jinghua.

But Huayu, his three year old baby cousin, displayed immense potential and strength, it made Jinghua feel both proud, and a little jealous.

They were both prodigies produced from the Yang bloodline yet Jinghua had the misfortune of becoming crippled. After being hospitalized he had lost considerable weight along with the musculature that had been the results of his vigorous training as a child. He still retained the muscle memory of his training and the strict teachings he had received from his grandmother but he could no longer pick up the sword so beloved by their clan. He was now so very frail, even the winds could tear him to shreds. 

The only thing he was able to do now, is pass down whatever teachings he could to Huayu, despite her carrying the Duanmu surname.

The sounds of crackling wood echoed distortedly in his ear…

Jinghua’s phone slipped from his tingling fingers and it fell to the ground with a ‘clack’, he swayed dangerously forward. Dark spots dancing wildly in his gaze.

Small fingers dug into the fabric of his bijia, halting his descent to the ground.

Jinghua dizzily stared at the hardwood floor feeling his stomach churn uncomfortably.

His little cousin adjusted her grip and tugged Jinghua’s body backward. Setting him upright and making the colours of the world twirl and twine incandescently. Jinghua breathed harshly through his nose, forcefully taking air into his lungs lest he suffocate himself.

Huayu was scared stiff but refrained from panicking and was carefully observing him with a slightly mature gaze.

Jinghua gave her a satisfied smile, “You reacted with good timing. Yu-Er did very well, Ge-ge is fine now.”

After confirming with a few pokes and prodding that he truly was fine Huayu’s little face glowed with relief.

“Hua-Gege. Should Yu-Er call for big sister nurse?”

Jinghua paused and seriously thought about it. After his rape, he had been very reluctant to take care of himself, much less let others take care of him and because of that he ended up making things hard for everyone again. Especially Fei Fei who was racked with guilt by his deteriorating condition.

Jinghua swallowed thickly, she was the one person, aside from Xi that he would rather die than hurt so all his grievances aside. He was determined to take better care of himself!

But thinking clearly, he really didn’t feel all that horrible. Just a tad nauseous and muddle headed.

He ruffled Huayu’s silky black hair and shook his head saying no.

“I do feel a little stuffy though. Would Yu-Er accompany this big brother for a walk?” he asked while extending his hand like a gentleman.

“Some fresh air would do us both some good.” He coaxed.

Grinning childishly, Huayu put her small hand in his.

“Okay Hua-Gege. But can you help me put this book on the shelf. I’m too short!” she complains lightly.

Jinghua bursts into laughter.

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Instead of going for a two minute walk and returning to the manor right after, Jinghua and Huayu ended up wandering into the inner courtyards where teacher Ling and another man, who he recognizes as Siyun’s father, stood by as they instructed Jinghua’s dorm mates.

The two cousins huddled themselves under a fragrant wisteria tree with two servants and a guard whom had accompanied them.

Of course, although they were enraptured by the swift and powerful displays of the students, Jinghua being Jinghua had to find some sort flaw with what he saw and began voicing his ridicule to the ears of his little posse. Huayu actually took him seriously and even joined in the ridiculing, using the same exaggerated whispering voice that he was using while adding her own two cents that triggered Jinghua into having a heated discussion about appropriate combat moves for certain combat situations. The servants and guard were well learned in martial arts and was able to keep up with the children’s conversation. But they could only sweatdrop when the children’s conversation deviated from martial arts and straight up went into vulgar street brawling.

Master Ling who’d trained his senses heard their words clearly as if they were whispering right into his ear and could not help but feel some concern when they began talking about using dirty moves against opponents.

“…and if that doesn’t work then just gouge out their eyes. Your mom would approve.”

When they heard Jinghua say that, the servant girls and the guard gave the boy an incredulous look while Master Ling could only stare helplessly in distress.

‘Don’t teach your cousin strange things you stinky brat!’ he cried in his heart.

TBC…

Chapter Text

Master Ling had never been as happy as he had when he announced an early lunch break to put an end to Jinghua’s morbid tirades. He wasted not one second in inviting them over to eat with the sweaty and exhausted teens.

Duanmu Siyun and the others were surprised by their presence, having been too absorbed into their practice to notice when the two had arrived. The first to snap out of it was Duanmu Siping as she aimed a small grin to little girl plastered against Jinghua’s leg.

“Hua meimei. Why are you hiding? Come here so jiejie can hug you.” She coos.

Huayu looked up at Jinghua and he tilted his chin to Siping in response.

Getting the wordless affirmative, Huayu hugged his thigh tightly before running to tackle her sweat soaked sister. Huayu yelped and tried to get away when started get wet but Siping held on tight with a deceptively sweet laugh. Jinghua massaged his bruised thigh as he snickered at the pair of half-sisters. Almost blending into the scenery, Jinghua had to do a double take when he suddenly noticed a hesitant Duanmu Simming gazing longingly at his sisters. Jinghua deadpanned at the boy and half wondered when the guy was going to put on his big boy pants and make merry with his younger sisters. Familial bonds don’t build themselves you know!

Jinghua looked around in annoyance and startled in surprise when didn’t find a certain wavy haired mother hen. He turned to look at Siyun, Zhangxuan’s unofficial number one stalker.

“Hey Siyun. Where’s Zhangxuan at? Wasn’t he supposed to be here today?” Jinghua questioned in shock.

Siyun didn’t even bat an eyelid, “He wasn’t scheduled for classes until later today. I was told that he went to go pick up the second madam at the airport. They should be back any minute now.” She reported point blank.

Jinghua doesn’t know where she gets her information from but she’s definitely a badass.

“Second madam?” Jinghua murmured until realisation struck. “Oh! Xi’s mom. Oh man youguys are going to have to greet her in a while.”

He completely missed Situ Lv’s face of scorn and turned to Master Ling.

“And since this small person is legitimately ill, and still in the process of recovery.” He faked a delicate cough. “I leave the greetings to you! Huayu and I will be medical wing’s sick bay if you absolutely need us.” He announces with a juvenile salute.

Qiu cocked an eyebrow, “You sound like you’re running with your tail tucked between your legs young master Yang.”

Jinghua scoffed, “Of course I am! The second madam isn’t very fond of me you know. If Xi isn’t around, I get glared at and you know me, I’d rather fight back than play nice. So in order to avoid trouble, I’ll find a nice rock to hide under till Xi comes home.”

Ouyang Yang let out a ‘pftt’ sound from his spot on the ground, “You’re using the second young master as a meat shield?”

Jinghua gave a thumbs up, “Only against his mother…”

Siping adjusted Huayu on her hip and hummed in contemplation, “I’m really surprised though. She’s usually very nice to… Well, everyone! I can’t even imagine her disliking you as you say.”

Jinghua rolled his eyes, “Others won’t necessarily notice it unless she’s trying to hide it.”

Lv propped his chin against the heel of his palm, “Oh? So why exactly does she hate you?” he asked with interest.

Jinghua deadpanned, “How the heck am I supposed to know? I’m not a mind reader!”

Lv snorted disbelievingly.

Jinghua frowned, “What?”

The guy shook his head and said, “Nothing.”

Ugh, why was this guy always so disagreeable? He decided to ignore him and plop himself next Ouyang. The lesser of the two evils.

The brown haired boy gave him a tired grin, “So when should we expect you back for classes?”

Jinghua blinked, “Day or night?”

Ouyang, “Both?”

Jinghua shrugged, “If all goes well I’ll be back in action by next week.”

Idly rubbing his chin he added, “But I guess I should tell you that after I graduate, I’m skipping high school and will be studying full time for the training classes.”

Master Ling tilted his head, “Was this authorized by the family head?”

Jinghua sighed, “Of course! Otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything.” Giving Master Ling a scrutinizing gaze he continued, “By the way, are you guys rigging my exams? It’s the seventh time I failed and I’m beginning to think the old guys don’t want me to pick up any martial arts.”

Master Ling sighed, “You’re not wrong. It’s just that you are more than capable of defending yourself, and you already have a fighting style unique to you. Not that it means you can’t learn another fighting style. By all means I truly encourage that you do.

“But the current state of your body would not be able to handle the stress of learning it. You realise this don’t you?”

Oh, Jinghua knows. He knows that better than anyone else that he truly can’t.

He’s only playing the fool because he refuses to constantly be the damsel in distress. He’s only ever wished to pull his own weight and not be a burden, but what can he really do?

No amount of praying and eating medicine would mend his broken body back to the way it originally was.

The damage has already been done.

TBC…

Chapter Text

Xi and Siyao were utterly exhausted as they bask in the blessed coolness of their limo’s A/C.

The two had phys ed today and they had been worked to the marrow of their bones by the upperclassmen who’d been in charge of supervising their class while the teachers were attending a staff meeting. What the meeting was about, Xi hadn’t the foggiest clue but Siyao had one of her older friends find out.

But unlike her, Xi hadn’t bothered to inquire since it wasn’t a big of a concern to him.

The only thing he had on his mind was his mother’s (hopefully) safe arrival. And if everything moved according plan, Zhangxuan should have received and escorted her back to the estate long ago.

In addition, those who had been assigned for daylight training classes should have already greeted her upon her return.

Well, except for Jinghua and Huayu.  

For some reason, Xi noticed that Jinghua always behaved rather meekly around his mother, and often would shyly hide behind Xi’s back whenever she directly spoke to him. For the Yang Jinghua who Xi considered the epitome of bold and fearless, he found this habit of Xiao Hua was terribly adorable.

Yet one would assume that over the years Jinghua would have gotten over this shyness of his but it only seemed to have worsened, almost to the point where he would faint if left alone with her.

Huayu was smart enough to pick up on his behaviour and act accordingly but he didn’t really put much faith into his baby sister. After all, she was only just a child, could she really handle the situation and Xiao Hua in check…?

Xi’s silver gaze darkened. Xiao Hua should just be solely under his care.

If his father would allow him, he would lock the other boy up and then everything would be fine! Xi would finally be able to protect him forever and ever…

Maybe then this throbbing emptiness in his chest would finally cease.

TBC…

Chapter Text

It was late into the afternoon when the second madam was woken up from her short nap that she was greeted by the students of the training classes. Feeling just a bit more rejuvenated and nostalgic she decided to accompany them to observe one of their classes. Luckily this was a class shared by the Day and Night students. In other words, her son would be back any second now to attend this class with her baby brother and the other night training students.

It was only when she was assisting Master Ling in setting up the lab for the classes that she felt something terribly off about the gazes on her person.

The kids probably weren’t aware they were even doing it but the second madam could feel contemplative looks being aimed her way.

Both the good ones and the bad ones.

Zhangxuan, her baby brother was also aware of the odd looks being thrown her way yet he shrugged it off as insignificant and just kept up his heated whispering with Duanmu Siyun.

She often wondered if that Xuan-Er had any inkling of that girl’s feelings for him.

But judging by her baby brother’s carefree actions, he doesn’t seem to realise at all. It would really take the girl to slapping him with an outright confession for him to even get a clue.  

She sighed. Xiren was the same way in that aspect.

Not being able to ignore a particularly penetrating stare, she covertly peeked in the direction of Situ Lv. He was giving her a particularly nasty look like usual but it was unusually muted as he was in the general vicinity of the Duanmu twins.

That child was firmly in the first madam’s corner and had been against her presence as a wife to the Duanmu’s family head, even more so than the first madam herself when she had first been taken in as Yin’s second wife. However the first madam’s hatred towards her had cooled exponentially when Yin took his childhood friend, the ever vicious Yang Yinzhe as his third wife. Situ Lan would never dare to offend Yinzhe much less seek to cause trouble for the other wife unless she wanted trouble herself.

In comparison she was a complete outsider from the Shenlong family, so it made sense that others disagreed with her place as Yin’s wife. But she would never bow her head and allow herself to be bullied. She was as much as Yin’s lawful wedded wife as Lan and Yinzhe was!

She admired that Lv was willing to defend his favoured aunt’s honour, but this was not a matter for an outsider to partake in as it was something that only the first and second wives should settle on their own.

Two sharp knocks drew her and Master Ling’s attention just as the doors opened and two freshly showered youths walked in.

A lovely brown haired girl accompanied by a boy whose face was an exact replica of her beloved husband’s.

The boy was surprised to see her in the classroom since he was probably expecting to greet her during dinner.

“Mother!” her cute Xiao Xi cried.

She smiled as he jogged up to her spot and directly gave her a warm but tight hug, “Welcome back…”

She giggled as he nuzzled at her cheek and brushing his nose at the daisy bloom behind her ear.

She smiled wryly as he gave it a gentle sniff. Flowers of the hua kai give of sensual fragrances when the romantic feelings in the person are strong but this scent, only to those who had bloomed flowers of their own, or those who were afflicted by the hua tu bing, only they can smell them.

Quelling the bitterness in her heart at this fact, she gently placed her hands on her child’s shoulders.

“Thank you Xi.” She happily smiled.

She noticed the girl, Qin Siyao, slowly approaching and gave her a welcoming smile.

“Greetings to the second madam and welcome back! I hope your trip back was pleasant.” She says politely.

Her Xiao Xi straightened and stepped to the side so Siyao could properly pay her respects.

She chuckled softly at the pair, “It was. Thank you for your concern little miss Qin.”

Siyao bowed with a happy look and excused herself to her seat next to the Ouyang boy. Xi on the other hand, gave her shoulder a quick squeeze before whispering that they would talk later.

Preferably in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn on their laps as they chat the night away.

She silently watched as her child sat a few paces away from the Qin girl, wordlessly picking up the worksheet on the table. With her Xiao Xi’s eidetic memory, he gave the pages a passing glance and quickly got to setting up his apparatus from the materials provided to perform titration on an acid. She covered her lips as she realised that her child was following the method to a T.

From the corner of her eye, Master Ling was leisurely weaving through the tables as the children got down to business, diligently keeping an eye out for the children’s safety.

The second madam leaned back in satisfaction.

Meanwhile, when nobody was looking, Xi quickly fired off a text message to Jinghua from under his desk.

Duanmu Xi: Xiao Hua, I will sneak out and visit you tonight. Say hi to Yu-Er for me.

TBC…

 

 

Chapter Text

By the time Xi, Zhangxuan and Siyao had been allowed to return from the night classes, Xi was almost too tired to make his way to the manor. But as a filial son to his loving mother, Xi forced himself to make to journey from the inner courtyards to the manor.

When his mother saw his dishevelled state upon arrival, she immediately gathered him in her arms and led him straight into the dining room where a small but nutritious meal awaited him. One that she had cooked herself.

The food was still warm and the delicious smell called to empty stomach.

After eating dinner, the two had sat down in the living room with the television as background noise. The mother and child chatting away until Xi’s eyelids grew heavier and heavier until he was sound asleep.

All memory of his promise to Jinghua was swallowed by the darkness of his conscious.

.

.

.

It was hot.

Stifling.

Unbearable.

His scarred skin tingling painfully as if he were being cooked alive.

The sleeping boy tensed with a strangled whimper.

His whole body was tingling until everything in his body went completely numb.

Stone blue eyes snapped wide open, lips parted as a soundless scream left with a sharp gust of breath. His eyes searched around frantically. Limbs flailing and slapping around as if they could no longer coordinate by his own will.

He felt paralyzed and heavy. As if he were not in his own body. 

Where am I?

Hysteria climbed up his throat and he almost screamed out loud.

Where?

Feeling suddenly returned to his body and Jinghua wasted no time in shaking out his limbs with a soft sob.

Everything hurts.

The sensation of pins and needles were everywhere, stabbing his skin without an ounce of mercy.

It hurts. It hurts too much makeitgoaway!!!

His eyes were restlessly darting around.

He spotted two sleeping figures on some other beds but neither person was the one who he was looking for.

His body quivered violently. Where was Xi-Ge?

Where is he?! His mind shouted in fear.

Did he abandon me?

Jinghua suddenly moved as if he were possessed by a ghost, dashing out of the room in a panic.

His ribbon loosened from his hair, the long strands of navy hair swished freely behind his fleeing body like a moving stream, much like the ghostly white gown that he donned for the night.

Jinghua moved on pure instinct alone as his feet pounded against ground causing strain to his already weakened body, yet he refused to stop moving until he ran straight into the silent dorms.

Please…

Jinghua’s lips were pale as he came to an abrupt stop in front of his bedroom door, his chest heaving for breath while he clutched onto the door knob.

Please be here!

Legs like wobbling jelly he turned the knob and staggered into the darkened room where even the moon refused to bathe its soft rays of moonlight.  

“Xi-Ge…?” he whispered hoarsely.

It took a few abortive movements for his legs to obey him once more. One foot in front of the other right up until he bumped into the sharp edge of his small bed. He sobbed loudly but not because of the pain.

“Xi?!” he called desperately.

His heart was pounding so hard that he feared he would suddenly drop dead.

Quickly crawling onto the small bed, his hand stretched out, feeling around until his trembling fingers came into contact with warmed skin.

Jinghua went completely boneless with relief as he collapsed a hair’s breadth away from the other boy’s body. Their faces, only centimetres apart.

Jinghua could finally see him through the veil of darkness.

Xi jolted into a half conscious state.

Slightly startled but knowing that there was only one person who be on a bed with Xi, “Jinghua? What’s wrong?” he questioned groggily.

Jinghua couldn’t even muster the strength to respond, he could only crawl wordlessly onto Xi’s pliant body and pitifully curl himself into a cooked shrimp.

Not getting a response from person on top of him, Xi exhaled contently and felt himself drift off. But before falling back into the embrace of the god of dreams, he moved on autopilot. Tugging Jinghua’s thin baby blue blanket so it can cover both of them at once.

Jinghua sniffled and sighed.

Ear pressed onto Xi’s strong chest, he sought to calm himself down to the steady reassuring beat of Xi’s little heart.

Thank god. Thank god…

Still here.

I’m not alone.

TBC…