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I wake in a room surrounded by gentians, with your forehead ribbon tied around my wrist, and my injuries treated.

Your ribbon, symbol of your eternal devotion, of your love and affection, is something that I’ve never dared to want for myself, never dared to dream of. Yet it’s here, tied around my wrist.

But still I know this, ‘this is not love.’

Still, I should be grateful. It means you want me alive, and you’re willing to sacrifice your own future to keep it this way.

You visit me, once every two weeks, just like we use to. You speak to me behind a screen, a warded one which I cannot cross. That’s okay. We’ve known each other for so many years, I can read you without seeing your face. (But I’ll always treasure the glimpse of your face before we draw the partition. I’ll treasure the soft smile.)

At first we pretended that nothing has changed. We’d talk about silly things, non-consequential things. I know you don’t trust me, but I’ve managed to make you laugh again a few times, here and there, and I’m proud of myself for that. Whenever I ask about Sect matters, you’d calmly deflect the topic. I suppose you’re right not to trust me. After all, if given the chance, I’d escape somehow.

Lan XiChen, do you know, it’s boring here without you around.

Of course, I always treasure the time we spend together. So I try not to complain to you. But it’s so boring here in this shed. There’s nothing for me to do, so inevitably, I spend all day thinking of the past.

I suppose that’s what they call reflection.

But Lan XiChen, I don’t know if you’ll always like where my thoughts go. Sometimes I think, what if I killed Da-Ge earlier, when I had a chance? What if I had made Qin Su miscarry? What if I never spared SiSi? Would I still be here today?

See, I told you, you won’t like it.

But there’s no point in “what if’s” are there? Still, having nothing but your own thoughts for company make one think of pointless things. You tell me that you too has hid yourself for seclusion, and honestly, do you think that’d please me?

Go do your Sect Leader duties, Lan XiChen. The two of us doesn’t have to share this imprisonment. Your father was a fool.

You’ll be glad to hear that the cat you’ve given me has finally taken a liking to me.

At first, he was always mewing at the window crack or pawing at the door. He’s so small, and sounded so pitiful. Of course, I couldn’t let him out. If I did, then he wouldn’t be back.

He learnt to stop after a while, and seeks to play with me instead. I guess he’s finally learnt that the door won’t open for him.

Now he sits in my lap purring.

Animals are such simple creatures. That’s what make them so lovable.

It makes me happy, watching this little guy play. This little guy is satisfied with everything provided to him, so easily.

Despite what’s come between us, I’m glad you’ve given me all these considerations.

Even back then, while I’m in Koi Tower, my time with you has always been the brightest. You always make me so happy.

I killed our cat. I know, killing is forbidden in the Cloud Recess. You won’t believe me if I say that I had no choice but to kill him, will you?

It’s regrettable. The cat’s innocent here, and I do love him so. He’s brought me more joy than anything else here, any books, any paintings. The cat made me happy, and you think just because I’m happy, that I’m satisfied.

That would be a misunderstanding, wouldn’t it?

So you see, I had no choice. It’s either him or you, and between the two, I’d rather choose you. I know he was your gift, and I treasured him like I treasure every gift from you. But I’d rather have you.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t be angry at me. I gave him a good burial. Please don’t stop seeing me. Please come back.

Come back.

Come back.

Come back.

I miss you.

I want to see you again.

If you don’t come back, then I’ll have no one. Then I wouldn’t know—

You came back for me. I’m happy. I’m happy when I’m with you. I always treasure the time we’re together. When you’re here your voice is beautiful and I close my eyes and I can see your face in my mind. And we can talk about everything and anything just like the old days. And I picture your smile and you’ve always been beautiful.

But you sound so sad nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that smile.

I miss you.

So there’s this trick I use to do to ground myself.

I’d light 3 incense stick one by one. On the first incense stick, I’d think about my past, a quick run-through of all that’s lead me to this day. For the second one, I’d think of the future, what I strive for, where I want to be. And for the third one, I’d think about the present, and only the most pressing thing I need to focus on.

It’s quite time efficient, you should try it.

Nowadays, I spend all my time lost in the past. The present is static. I use to spend a lot of time plotting my escape, but you’ve been diligent.

Nowadays, I don’t want to think about going to DongYing anymore. It’s exhausting.

I’d much rather think about you, and when you’ll visit again.

I love it when you visit, you know? I love your voice, the conversation, and I always save my energy for you. Always give my best for you.

I wish you’d visit more.

You’ve gotten thinner, and more pale. That wouldn’t do now. Would it? And you’re always chiding me about not eating well. You should take care of yourself.

I have to say… there’s a part of me that’s happy you’re unhappy.

I remember the first time we’ve met. You were still a vision even covered in dirt and grim. You were so helpless, though, didn’t know how to wash your own cloth or do anything on your own.

(But gosh, you could eat.)

I thought you must have been a rich little lord. When you said you were a cultivator, I wanted to laugh.

I didn’t know cultivators were humans too.

Looking back, meeting you gave me a lot of hope in the world. You were so wonderful and pure and I thought, there must be more cultivators like you. I wanted to be in your world, to be your equal. I wanted to be like you.

It’s been 831 days since I’ve woken up in this room, and today will be the day I stop keeping calendar.

Nothing changes, so there’s no point. All I need to count are the days until your next visit.

I like it when you talk about WangJi, because you seem happier then. He seems happy, and I’m glad that his happiness make you happy.

When we reminisce about our past, you’re sad, and when I ask about the state of affair at the Koi Tower, you’re alarmed. I don’t want either of that, I just want to hear you happy. So we can talk about whatever make you happy.

I want you to be unhappy, but not when you’re with me. Is that selfish of me?

Tell me more about the new kids at the Cloud Recess. Are they behaving? Are they giving Master QiRen trouble? You can omit names if you want, I don’t care. You’ll be a good teacher, Lan XiChen. You should really consider teaching.

I’m sorry you’ll have to keep up the conversation. The scariest thing is when I have nothing to say. All I know is these four walls and this courtyard, so there’s not much I can contribute to anymore.

I hate that. I wreck my mind for responses to keep you amused, but it’s hard.

It’s so hard nowadays.

Oh! I saw a fox the other day! It disappeared before I can lure it over though. It somehow didn’t register to me that there must be carnivorous animals at the Cloud Recess, since killing is forbidden, but I guess it’s a normal mountain after all.

Sometimes I dream that I’m out in the world again. Just… doing work at the Koi Tower. Or perhaps interacting with the people you’re telling me about. When you tell me about Jin Ling’s birthday, I dream that I’m there. And sometimes I think I’m inhibiting two worlds at once, one where I’m out and about, and one where I’m in this house. Sometimes, I wonder which is real and which is the dream.

Maybe, anytime, I’ll wake up, and I’ll find myself still in Koi Tower, having work to be done. Or maybe I’ll wake up back in the GuanYin Temple, with Nie MingJue still at my heels. I don’t know.

All I know is that, in every world, Lan XiChen, you’re the only constant. You’ve always been that one constant in my life, always unwavering, always here.

I just wish you’re here more often.

Come back, I’m tired of being alone.

This isn’t me.

This isn’t me. This isn’t me. This isn’t me. This isn’t me.

This isn’t life. I don’t want to fade away.

I spent the whole day screaming, just because I can. Just because I finally can. And no one came. Perhaps no one heard? The guards must have heard. Maybe they were too afraid to come in. 

I feel better now. 

I’ve stopped forcing myself to eat every meal.

I’ve been eating less and less for a while, and I think my body’s been growing accustomed to hunger. The food here’s really bland, and I’m not a picky eater, but it’s becoming harder and harder for me to eat anything nowadays.

I can feel my stomach aching and shrivelling up from hunger, and that’s better than feeling nothing at all.

I hated you.

I never told you, but there used to be days when I hate you so much that I thought of killing myself before you just because I know it’d hurt you.  

I hated your kindness, your mercy, your righteousness. I hate the fact that you’re too sentimental to let me die, yet too disciplined, too just to set me free.

But I don’t want to hate you anymore. 

I miss you. I want to see your face. I want to hear your voice, always. You’re the only one who still cares for me, even after all my crimes, even after the world has forgotten about me, have they forgotten?

It’s always been like this, hasn’t it, Er-Ge? You, defending me against the world, sheltering me from people’s hatred. You’ve always been the only one. The only one.

I’m in a permanent state of missing you.

The weather is getting colder again, but I don’t quite have the energy to turn up the fire. It’s wet and humid here in Gusu, and the winter chills me to the bones.

I hate the cold, it makes my wounds flare, but I can’t will myself to do anything nowadays. My limbs are heavy and my mind is numb and I fear that I’m turning into stone. I’ve developed a fever and my head is heavy.

It’s almost time for you to visit, but I’m too weak to get up. I hear you knocking, just hold on a second. Don’t leave. Please don’t leave. I’m coming. I’m coming.

The world is spinning. The floor is cold. I can hear you calling me. Ah, you’re so warm. This must have been the first time we’ve touched in so long. Please continue holding me. Please don’t let go. You’re so warm.

Haha, you’re calling me A-Yao again, didn’t you tell me not to call you Er-Ge so long ago?

"I love you," I say. This is not love. This is not love. But it’s you. You’re here, in my clutch. I see you before me and I hear your heartbeat, I smell the incense from your cloth and taste iron from your mouth. I want to feel you, drink you, meld into you, make you part of me and me a part of you. I have you in my hands and you’re real, this is real.

You cling onto me, desperation mirrored in your eyes.

And the only thing I can say upon seeing your face again is your name. “Lan XiChen, Lan XiChen, Lan XiChen, Lan XiChen”

“I love you.”