The twelve year old sat lotus style on the park bench, eyes squinted at the pages of the lesson they had covered in class that afternoon.
His voice, 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 to his own chest before turning to 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.
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.
* hua kai - literally means bloom
**hua tu bing - the chinese version of the word hanahaki, it means flower spitting
Waking abruptly and staring 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 someone had electrocuted him.
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, “Did I wake you?”
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, “Fever.”
Slightly puffing a cheek, 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 soaked in a tub of liquid frost!
Alarmed, Xi had grabbed 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 dried, playing with them for a little before grabbing a white ribbon to draw them into a neat ponytail.
Satisfied with Jinghua’s somewhat perfect appearance, Xi pressed his palm to Jinghua’s forehead and found that his skin that had warmed to the point it was boiling beneath his finger!
Xi removed his hand in shock.
“Did you take your medicine last night?” he asked worriedly.
Jinghua, whose face was the picture of drowsy, shook his head saying no.
“After the exam, 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 to the cafeteria in his family’s dormitory. Seeing the lights in the kitchen was 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, 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, gently telling him, “I will be right back. I am going to change my clothes.”
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 will 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, “A-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 the 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 where his closet was. Throwing them open, he quickly grabbed a random outfit and threw it on his bed before dashing into the bathroom to wash up. Less than ten minutes later, 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 one of those episodes. 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 will 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 third 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.
Jinghua, who had finished his last bowl and was contentedly caressing his bloated tummy almost blew chunks when Xi, silent as the grave, snuck up on him and embraced him from the back, face buried in 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 word when he felt something wet soaking onto his neck. A shudder running up his spine.
Weeping soundlessly, Xi pressed his lips to Jinghua’s frantic pulse.
“I swear it… I swear that I’ll always protect you.”
Xi didn’t know what sort of face Jinghua made when he declared this vow but his voice sounded almost fearful when he says, “Protect me... From what?”
Silence reigned for a short while but only one word came out of Xi’s mouth, “Everything.”
* if it wasn't obvious before, Jinghua has PTSD.
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 A-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.
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 was not 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, 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 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.
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.
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.
Pushing those thoughts away, Zhangxuan approached the kitchen auntie and ordered a plate of scallion pancakes and a glass of milk. After accepting his tray of food, 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, 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 step foot into 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 give him reassurances, their teacher casually poised with Jinghua’s emergency shot held definitively in the air.
Heart pounding, Zhangxuan rushed to the teacher's side and took the syringe away.
“He’s not having an episode.” He says faintly.
Looking somewhat embarrassed the teacher responds, “My mistake… I wasn’t really going to give it to him you know.”
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.
The man seemed to have blanked at the question before tilting his chin in thought.
“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!” he suddenly cries.
Jinghua’s bright red face full of distress 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.
Zhangxuan officially met Xi when they were both six years old.
* Xi's hair is still black.
** Jinghua moved into the dorms much later.
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 with a pinched look on his face.
Zhangxuan hovered, “Is it another fever?”
Xi nodded, “I already gave him his medication for the morning and it’s still clinging to him.” Referring to the fever as if it were a particularly annoying villain that refused to die.
The brown haired girl, Siyao squatted next to the fainted person, idly poking his red cheek with a questioning look on her, “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 the question, Zhangxuan froze abruptly causing 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…?”
The teacher felt as though his soul was escaping, “Does… I mean. Was Duanmu Yin told of this?”
Xi perked, “Father? Why him?”
Teacher Ling shook his head, “The Duanmu head is the sole person in the family responsible for managing Jinghua’s health and development 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, “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.”
Seeing the girl rearing to charge at him, Zhangxuan yelped and ran off with Xi’s cousin hot on his tail!
Struck dumb at their abrupt departure, the 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. Picking up Jinghua, Xi tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and left, Siyao following behind.
When they arrived in the bedroom Xi set Jinghua down with more care than when he had picked him up. Sighing, 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. Even if this little idiot left now, he’d be marked as late. And besides, that fever is gonna leave him out of commission for the next few hours. Uncle 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 worried look upon 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 really too astonishing!
Sighing through his nose, Duanmu Yin turned around and was mildly surprised to see them in the room. Nodding 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 gladly tugged 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, causing 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? Everything was going so well until this!”
With the exception of Duanmu Huayu, his baby sister of two years, Duanmu Yin has never once showed such emotions towards Xi nor his 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 wasn't a secret that the man is rather forgetful. So it’s hard to wrap his head around the fact that the man is actually taking responsibility for another person’s welfare. Especially since Xi thought the extent of his goodwill ended at allowing Jinghua sanctuary within the Duanmu estate under Yang Ning’s request.
A short knock startled the occupants in the room causing all three to face the newcomers with varying reactions. Yin expressing elation, Xi expressing fear and Siyao expressing mild hostility at the sight of a white clad man with vibrant fiery red hair and a single stalk of blossomed myrtle behind his ear. Huayu was asleep in his arms 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 his 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. Knowing what the man 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 cute Xiao Xi. I missed you so much!”
* the dorms are unisex.
** there is a gazeebo between the manor and the dorms.
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 separated the two and settle the paler than usual second young master onto the nearby bean bag chair. Frantically searching for that red paper fan Jinghua had bought at random during the Qixi festival*, Zhangxuan flicked it open and began fanning his friend.
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 definitely Yinzhe’s dream child!
Yinzhe's only regret was that he did not birth the boy himself.
Hearing that Yin had offered multiple times if Yinzhe would like for him to impregnated, but Yinzhe’s first reaction to such an offer was to slap Yin silly and then lock himself in his bedroom for the rest of the day.
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.
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, that 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 look at 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 equally enchanting. Yang Ning was his frail younger brother’s caretaker from an early age, Ning’s primary duties being 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 being only 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. Yin acting like a capable and praise seeking child, and Yinzhe acting like a schoolyard bully.
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 is 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 when 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.
But for Yinzhe it’s a source of pride.
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 brought Xi with him to visit the Yang family one sunny afternoon.
The two little boys, after an odd first impression, began gravitating towards one another after a round of questions and games. Jinghua immediately 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 mother.
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 softly 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. This is quite the nasty fever you have here, Xiao Hua.” He says mildly.
Weakly touching his own forehead, then moving to touch his neck, Jinghua breathed out deeply.
“Don’t feel so hot though. Sorta clammy though.” Jinghua spoke shortly.
Yin frowned and turned around to call Yinzhe, only to find his wife and 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 the bitter tea, “She’s been here for a while now. Are you okay lao gong****? Do you need her to check you too?”
Jinghua and Xi were formally introduced to each other when they were both four years old. Yinzhe and Yin grew up living together since the day of their birth. Yin used to be a bad father. Yinzhe was in love with Yin but since he was in denial of his feeling their flowers never bloomed (until Yinzhe found out he was pregnant).
* qixi festival - Chinese valentines
** xingan - heart & liver, the eqivalent of saying heart & soul
*** Yin knew about Yinzhe's gender since the beginning, has tunnel vision when it comes to Yinzhe's appearance, doesn't realise that the wife looks like a man, acts like a man and even speaks like a man
**** lao gong - basically means husband or hubby, the man who I will spend the rest of my life with
Chapter 6: Devil Trigger
This chapter went from zero to one hundred real quick! Trigger warnings apply!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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 can.
Only Yin and the nurse were severely alarmed at 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 reflecting on their actions but the 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 finally tend to her upset patient. This resulted in Jinghua being propped up to swallow the medicinal tea she had prepared especially for him.
Smacking his lips with an extremely disgusted face, Jinghua thought that this was the nastiest brew yet.
Glancing casually at his clock 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 gave him an incredulous look, “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… 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 am taught!”
The nurse felt sympathy for the boy, “I apologise. I seem to have forgotten that your condition is still quite unstable. You have only been living here for just 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 away his gaze he muttered dejectedly, “Not special at all…”
Shaking her head sadly, the dorm nurse began her poking and prodding. When Jinghua let out a sharp hiss, she froze.
“Does your lower stomach still hurt?”
Jinghua’s face had paled, eyes slowly filling with tears.
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 those people who were on top of me, but I couldn’t calm down…” he suddenly whispered in terror.
“I’m still okay with being close to others. But being pushed down with some else’s weight restraining me...” he let out a gasping cry as the tears finally spilled. “It’s so scary.”
The nurse felt her heart tear open with compassion as she watched the young boy curl into himself, 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 gripped 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! 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 becoming dull.
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 to his 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 pain. 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 breaths 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 at Jinghua’s deathly still body and empty gaze. His heart felt as though it was being ruthlessly crushed. Removing himself from Jinghua’s body, he backed away but refused to look away from the heart-breaking sight.
Yinzhe side eyed his favorite child, 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 so he could run to the Yang household earlier than he had the first time.
To Yinzhe, it was a miracle that Xi and Yin had even arrived before the house had been completely engulfed by the roaring flames.
* Crystal Woods (my editor, pretending to be Xi): Mama Xuan! They're bullying meeee!
ME: ... >_>
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 frowned 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 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 the 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 wood burning 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 any kind of physical pain and even 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.
“What?” he 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, “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.” Yin exclaims apologetically.
Yinzhe felt his rage spontaneously explode at his husband’s 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 Jing-Er, 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 rape?”
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!
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 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.
Jinghua's tragedy took place when he was ten years old, he spent eight months in the hospital also including his birthday so when he was discharged, Jinghua, Xi and Zhangxuan had all turned eleven.
* Yanluo - better known as King Yan, is the Chinese god of death. His face appears typically on Chinese hell money.
Chapter 8: He Who Observes
The boy leaning casually against 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 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 towards Jinghua, the boy’s face had actually turned a distinct purple. Because according to Jinghua, A-Xi was a casual flirt since birth, sweet talking anyone without the knowledge of actually doing so.
Being flirted with by such a lovely child, there were bound to be 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 opened the third door after giving 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 a 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.
A-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, Zhangxuan could tell, 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, A-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.
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 confused.
After losing the tense atmosphere, they’d been 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 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.
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 they were expected not to see him 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, 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 there.
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 to 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!
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 got 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 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.”
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 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.
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.
* She blocked her own actions out. She didn't forget what she did but if anyone asks she can't describe it well.
** didi- younger brother. In this fic, they are the same age but despite us knowing that Jinghua is older than Xi in canon, Xi is older here since he is born in September and Jinghua in December. :-P