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The birth and death of leaves is part of that greater cycle that moves among the stars.

Rabindranath Tagore


The stormy sky split in half. A bright flash of lightning had cut the veil of clouds, and the following burst of thunder shortly gave way to patter. Like the heavy rain wanted to knock on the tiled roof. Yu rolled over on his back with a moan and stared into the ceiling, almost expecting it to break down from the wind. He had wanted to book a higher class hotel, but someone is stubborn as a mule… The train of thought suddenly stopped, and Yu sat up on the empty bed. The wrinkled bedsheets were still warm to the touch.

He hurriedly put on his pyjama pants, locked the living room window that had been recklessly left open and went out to the windswept balcony. Sea water flung in his face at the first step, bitter and salty, but Yu didn’t care much. A sigh of relief passed his lips when he saw Yilong who had rolled himself in a warm bathrobe like a caterpillar in the cocoon, ready to become a butterfly. He was sitting on the railing childishly kicking up his bare feet, toes nearly touching the wooden floor. Vibrant as a flame-red autumn leaf fallen from the branch into a gushy mountain stream by the will of gods.

’Can’t sleep?’ Yu deftly shoved the arms under his elbows, cuddled up tighter, resting his chin on Yilong’s shoulder. Yilong turned his head, so Yu could see these adorable crow’s-feet when he flashed a smile.

’I wish you got shaved at least once a week.’

’Well, if you fix the schedule and constantly remind me…’

They hadn’t seen each other since April. Since that moment in the corridor of Yilong’s apartment when they were helplessly struggling to say goodbye – it was a miracle that Yu didn’t miss his flight afterwards. How can it be enough to chat or call, when you remember the touch of warm breath on your skin, lips kissing your nape along the hairline, timidly and shyly; fingers in your hair trying to transform this dishwashing sponge on the head into something looking like hairstyle while you pretend to be asleep trying hard to hold the laugh? That’s why he arrived in Hainan a week ago: supposedly, for family vacation. He even got intentionally caught on camera with his mom and older sister just to sneak away to the far end of the island a little bit later and hide in a small house on the seashore. That’s why Yilong didn’t give a shit about his own overbusy schedule and time zones, so after another fashion week in Paris he put on a semblance to come back home. When in reality he took the flight from Beijing to Sanya. That’s why they almost smashed down the door, definitely not meant for anyone to bump into it back-first to the hilt.

’Let me… at least take a shower,’ Yilong made a vain attempt to protest between their hasteful clumsy kisses. He didn’t even try to stop, though, and let Yu push hims into the shower cabin, still dressed in his travel clothes… Yu took it off later, bewitchingly watching his unbuttoned shirt soak in water while Yilong was rubbing his eyes with a worn-out smile, and transparent drops on extremely long black lashes looked like liquid mist.

Warm tropical rain stretched out thousands of shivering strings from the sky to the sea, and the horizon finally disappeared. Lightning bolts zigzagging across the nightly darkness remained the only source of light outside the bungalow on its slightly swaying pales.

’Sorry. I didn’t check the weather forecast,’ Yu murmured, sounding sincerely guilty.

’I don’t care. I would have come anyway.’

Yilong touched the heavy pendant on his neck with a habitual gesture. The yellow adular bead resembled a tiny sun on the lace; creative fantasy could even make Yu see the vivid dancing fire inside the half-transparent globe. He found this stone a year ago, in Xi’an, in a souvenir shop on the street he came round by sheer chance – just to hide Shen Wei’s necklace in the pocket some months later, when he didn’t dare to gift it. Yu waited until his very departure, scared to destroy the fragile equilibrium between Yilong and him. He failed to restrain himself anyway.

‘You are not Wei, I’m not Yunlan,’ Yu said with a crisp confidence, finally fastening the clasp. ’But without them we wouldn’t have met at all. And nothing would work out.’ And they themselves wouldn’t exist. At least the ones they are now. Yu shivered at the sudden remembrance of Wei’s death scene and squeezed Yilong, burying his face in thick wet hair, which smelled like salt and wind.

'Let’s go inside. Or we're gonna drown for good.’

He didn’t grumble that some of present people (who tend to exhaust themselves completely) really needed to sleep for several days in a row, and he didn’t joke that dark under-eye circles made him look like a worn out panda. Yu just followed him. As he always did.

The bedside lamp light was as sharp as a knife; Yilong squinted in its shining brightness and turned it off before nailing Yu’s wrists to the pillow. The pendant glared in the darkness as if it was a piece of a fallen star, and for Yu it seemed so right to catch the golden crystal sphere with his lips. To feel the familiar warmth of this personal sun. Their personal closed little world.

’Watch me,’ Yilong whispered and clutched his chin for a moment. He perfectly knew how Yu’s brain was shutting down from this simple gesture.

‘Like it’s possible to watch someone else after you.’

And so he didn’t. All these endlessly long desperate months of silence he was ready to breach a wall with his own head – but the wall was missing. As well as this wonderful, astonishing man whose sole gaze could make Yu kneel. Make him want to obey without a grumble.

The rain ceased, and the edge of the horizon, ragged as an uneven brush stroke, started to brighten under the waves of becalmed sea, lazily touching the indistinct boundary between air and water.

’When are you…’ started Yu but couldn’t force himself to say ”leaving” out loud.

He was fidgeting with the bedcover, when Yilong lightly kissed the back of his neck and cupped his palm around Yu’s fingers.

’In two days.’

Fourty-eight hours. Hell of a lot. Ruthlessly few.

’Feels like forever.’

It all depends on the anchoring point. Sometimes, looking forward, you don’t see the future but the past. Sometimes, looking over your shoulder, you don’t follow the same path you once walked. Yu touched the back of Yilong’s hand with his lips and blissfully closed his eyes.

’Right. Like forever.’

There is more than one way of measuring eternity.