So just call me, you know I will be waiting
For you as you walk towards that redemption sound
You know I’ll be the stillness when you’re shaking
And when you fall overboard, I’ll follow you down
When the words compute inside Yixing’s brain, the glass bottle he was holding is already on the floor, shards everywhere, milk seeping along the tiles.
He moves as if on autopilot. There are no names, obviously, this is just a TV broadcast. Breaking news, but no details. Never any details, or you’ll panic the general public. Yixing knows these rules better than he knows most social ones, because it was his job, once upon a time. To manage. To lead.
There are no names, but Yixing has never been more certain of anything in his life. He climbs the stairs to the second floor of his tiny house two by two, goes straight to his bedroom. Nightstand drawer, shoved at the back, behind a half-empty bottle of lube placed there precisely to distract, is what he’s looking for.
The revolver is heavy in his hand, the metal cold yet burning. He hasn’t held a firearm in two years, but there are motions one never forgets. He cleans it swiftly, loads it, leaves it on his kitchen table while he forces his breathing to calm down, slow down, still. Meditative, he focuses. Plans.
He packs a bag with only the essentials. A change of clothes, all black. Food. Ammo. There’s a fat stack of cash for emergencies tucked under a lath in the living room. He takes that, too.
: : :
On the road, windows down, the cold, harsh air sobers him up. Razor-sharp, he has to be razor-sharp. It’s been so long since he was a hunter. He stops at a gas station and buys a burner phone, a pack of M&Ms, and a bottle of orange Gatorade.
Thirty minutes later, driving too fast, it takes two tones for Junmian to pick up.
“I need a favor,” Yixing says, no introduction. He hears his old colleague sigh into the receiver. “Life or death,” he insists. Junmian owes him at least that.
“I haven’t heard from you in months, you bastard,” Junmian protests. He sounds genuinely wounded. Yixing would feel sorry if he had the time.
“Tell me what you need,” Junmian finally caves in. Yixing takes a sharp turn.
“Tilanqiao. I need to know what happened. It’s important.”
Junmian tells him. Fresh inmate, brand new, some fat cat, white collar crime. Loads of money, enough to warrant a private security crew to break him out of prison and leave absolute chaos behind them. A trail of dead bodies, but not only. Others escaped too, in the total confusion that followed. They were counting on that. What a blessed distraction, after all—some of the most dangerous thugs the Motherland has to offer, roaming free.
“I need names, Junmian,” Yixing says, tiredly. It’s this all-consuming anxiety, the one that settled at the pit of his stomach the second he saw the words BREAKOUT AT TILANQIAO PRISON on his small TV screen. It’s exhausting, eating him up. Unearthing emotions he thought he had left behind in Shanghai, buried alongside his career in the Force.
Junmian is reticent again, then. Classified, he says through gritted teeth. Don’t ask me this, Xing, ask for anything else.
“Wu Yifan,” Yixing says. “Just this. I just need to know this.”
It takes a long, long time for Junmian to answer. When he does, he sounds worried in whole different set of ways. “He’s out. They can’t figure out where he disappeared to. Yixing…”
“You’re a real friend, Junmian. Thank you.”
He can hear Junmian’s grimace in his voice. “Don’t do anything stupid, Yixing.”
Don’t kill him, Yixing translates. Don’t try and catch him yourself. You’re not a cop anymore.
“I won’t,” he promises. It is only half a lie.
: : :
He makes it to Shanghai way too fast. Doesn’t sleep, drives through the night, breaks so many traffic laws he is genuinely surprised he doesn’t get pulled over. He abandons his car on the edge of the city, takes the train downtown, then rents a bike. There is a small, family-owned hotel on the street he used to live on. He doesn’t take his baseball cap or his sunglasses off at the check-in desk, looks like an absolute asshole. He gives the name of one of Wu Yifan’s dead men instead of his. Speaks with a northern accent, all traces of Changsha gone from his voice. He slips a few bills in the tip jar when the receptionist isn’t looking, silent penance.
“Here you go, Mister Bian,” she says, handing him his keycard.
The room he requested is on the side of the street. Bad view, noisy. She was happy to accommodate him. From the ninth floor, when he looks out the window, Yixing is staring directly at his old apartment.
He unpacks, makes himself at home in the corner of the room. Takes out his binoculars, and, elbows resting on the windowsill, waits.
For days, nothing happens. Yixing’s insides twist in fear, rational and hungry like a dragon—I was wrong, I was wrong. He longs for backup, when his body gives up after forty-nine hours with no sleep, when he has to move from the window to the couch and shut his eyes for one circadian cycle. But this isn’t an op, this isn’t a mission. There’s no uniform to don. He’s all alone.
Then on the fifth day, Yixing sees him.
His head is shaved, but the hair is longer than Yixing is used to seeing, unkempt. The clothes he’s wearing are dirty, mismatched. The way he walks—cautious, keeping close to walls—that’s new. That’s new. A wave of dizziness passes through Yixing as he stands up, zips up his jacket. He writes it off as a mixture of lack of sleep and lack of nutrients. On the other side of the road, Yifan pushes the main door to Yixing’s old apartment building open.
: : :
Yixing starts trailing him when he exits the building again, about half an hour later. Keeping a careful distance he follows Yifan back onto the main street, through a packed crowd, eyes narrowing to never leave his back, to never lose him.
They play that game for a while. Yifan doesn’t seem to have a plan, just meandering aimlessly through the city, drifting. He slows down then starts walking too fast, and twice Yixing almost screws up his own cover by stopping himself right before walking into him.
Then at an intersection Yifan disappears.
“Fuck,” Yixing mutters under his breath, the acrid taste of bile spreading over his tongue. “Fuck,” even lower, to himself. “Where did you go, Kris?”
His answer comes in the shape of a hand grabbing him, dragging him into a small deserted alley and brutally slamming him against a cement wall.
Yixing shuts his eyes, takes a deep breath. There is a blade resting against his carotid, metal cold and sharp and angry but very still. By reflex he wraps his fingers around his assailant’s forearm to keep the weapon at bay.
When he opens his eyes he thinks he’s ready.
He’s not. He doesn’t think he ever will be. They were never supposed to stand so close to each other in truth, knowing each other’s names.
“Long time no see, officer,” Yifan smirks. There are a thousand words contained in that bitter smile. The knife digs a little deeper, now cutting into skin. Yixing feels blood pearling, slowly dripping down the front of his throat in a line.
He sighs, his fingers relaxing around Yifan’s wrist.
“Not a cop anymore,” he says finally.
“Is that the reason for this sad excuse of a shadowing job? Did you think I wouldn’t notice you breathing down my neck like some stupid rookie?”
“I hoped you would,” Yixing says, honest.
Yifan stills at that, his dark irises intent. They stare at each other for ten long, excruciating seconds.
“Jesus fuck, Zhang,” Yifan lets out shakily. The knife is retracted. Yixing doesn’t move. “Jesus fuck,” Yifan repeats, pulls him off the wall himself by the collar of his shirt.
It’s not a nice kiss. Yixing has kissed many men in his life but none of them were men he spent a decade simultaneously wanting and loathing. None of these kisses felt like losing the war.
Yifan’s mouth is demanding. In everything Wu Yifan remains the same: a man that takes without asking because he believes the world owes him what he desires. Yixing clutches his hoodie, hands desperately searching for an edge to cling onto, and Yifan pushes him back against the wall, kissing him deeper, frantic and messy. He brings a hand up to cup Yixing’s cheek, card his fingers through his hair. Yixing doesn’t know what to do with the sudden tenderness amidst the lustful rage.
After more than ten years of yearning for this man’s hands and his cock and his blood, getting to taste the breath from his lips is dizzying and dangerous.
“We need to go,” he pants when they break apart, chests both heaving and bodies intertwined. Yifan is still touching his face.
“You came looking for me,” he says, a little bewildered, like it has finally dawned on him.
“Yes,” Yixing says.
Yifan frowns. “To kill me? That is a gun in your pocket.”
“To save you,” Yixing shakes his head. “Kris, we need to go.”
Yifan silently watches him unlock a red car with a hairpin, squatting on the tarmac.
“Get in,” he orders once the door opens. Yifan raises an eyebrow but he does get in, so Yixing considers that a win.
“You weren’t joking about not being a pig anymore,” he whistles as Yixing takes a swiss army knife to the box under the wheel.
“I knew how to hotwire a car before I got into the Academy,” Yixing rolls his eyes.
“And I’m supposed to believe you’re not driving me straight back to the closest precinct?”
Yixing presses his foot to the pedal. The engine roars.
“You came looking for me, too,” he turns to Yifan.
“Yeah,” Yifan shrugs. “I was planning to kill you, though.”
Yixing huffs. “But you didn’t.”
Yifan is wordless for a beat. “I didn’t.”
“Then you know why I’m not driving you back to prison.”
There’s no arguing with that, really.
: : :
The road is smooth. The car glides on it, motor purring. It’s a good car. Yixing picked it because it was near and hidden away from view and easy to break into, but there must be a divinity watching over them, because it is a good car.
His stomach is tied in knots. With every breath he takes comes a buzz, rumble rising within, like three hundred angry bees trapped inside his sternum screaming. Yifan is tense as a taut wire on his right. They don’t look at each other.
“We’re gonna be off the highway soon,” Yixing tells him. “On the regional I won’t be able to drive that fast, but there aren’t any cameras.”
“You’re the boss,” Yifan shrugs. “For a change.”
Yixing furrows his brows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it’s supposed to mean. Just drive.”
The S32 merges onto the S12 close to Xitang. There are less vehicles, but there are also less lights on the side of the road, and in the semi-darkness Yixing’s other senses are heightened. Humans are simultaneously predator and prey, a curiosity of nature. Eyes fixed ahead he listens to Yifan breathing, steadily in and out, still trying to acclimate himself to this new reality in which they exist without bars and plexiglass panels in between, and no chains.
His body only relaxes—and only the tiniest bit—once they’re through Xitang, alone on the road. Rays of moonlight filter through the windows, white and sharp. Illuminated like that Yifan’s profile seems even harsher. He has always held himself like a king, back impossibly straight. There was a time, Yixing knows through gossip, when he would slouch to camouflage his height, but these years were long gone by the time Yixing had infiltrated the Wu clan.
“That was stupid of you, I hope you know that,” Yixing starts before he can help himself, words trickling out. “Coming to my old place.”
“Probably,” Yifan agrees. “But I had to see for myself.”
Yixing frowns. “See what?”
“You stopped visiting. There were rumors.”
Yixing takes a sharp turn left. “Rumors?”
“That you quit your job. That you were married.” A pause. “That you were dead.”
“Well,” Yixing says dryly, “I’m alive. And single.”
“Is your mother alright?”
Yixing sinks his front teeth into his bottom lip until he tears flesh and tastes the bitterness of metal. “Why do you care?”
“Because you’re in this car with me,” Yifan says softly. “And you still haven’t told me where we’re going, but Yixing—something tells me you’re not planning on dropping me off at the nearest train station.”
“It’s fucking weird, you calling me Yixing.”
Yifan has turned to face him. He doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road to know it—he can sense Yifan’s gaze, heavy.
“Do you want me to call you Lay?”
“No,” Yixing shakes his head. “It’s just fucking weird.”
“Tell me where we’re going, Yixing.”
Yixing chortles. “I could, you know? Leave you. Just—God—not the train station, they’d find you in a minute. But the port. I could put you on a fucking cargo ship and never see you again.”
He’s arguing with himself, mostly.
“You could,” Yifan agrees. “But you’re not going to.”
It’s sudden, and extremely stupid, and very fast. The rubber of the wheels shrieks as he hits the brakes frantically to avoid driving into the side of the road.
Yifan swears loudly, palm smashing against the glove compartment so that he doesn’t eat the window.
“What the fuck, Zhang!”
“Sorry,” Yixing mutters reflexively, chest heaving. “Sorry, fuck, we shouldn’t be having this conversation while I’m driving.”
Yifan unbuckles his seatbelt, turns his body towards Yixing. “Okay.”
“Okay,” he repeats. “Get your hands off the wheel. Tell me where we’re going.”
“I don’t fucking know,” Yixing lets out through gritted teeth. “There, got it? I don’t know. This was not the plan.”
Yifan is silent for a moment. His expression is unreadable.
“What was the plan, Zhang?”
“The plan was to see with my own two eyes that you were—I don’t know. There. Out. I had a loaded gun. I told myself I was going to end this.”
Yifan hooks two fingers under his chin, forces him to look up. Forces him to look him in the eye.
“The least you can do is look me in the eye when you lie to me,” he says coldly.
Yixing shakes his head free, away from Yifan’s touch. He cannot think like that. “You lied too. Were you coming to kill me? Be honest. Did you jeopardize your precious newfound freedom to kill a man you heard was already dead?”
“I was coming to take you,” Yifan says. “My first stop was the one safehouse you didn’t give them at the trial. Picked up some cash and clothes and a weapon. My second stop was your apartment. Because you belong to me.”
Yixing feels his guts constrict. “I don’t belong to anyone but myself.”
“Just like this knife,” Yifan says, imperturbable, flipping the blade between his pointer and his thumb. “You’re mine. You were mine when you were part of my clan, mine to keep and protect. And you’ve been mine since you betrayed me, too. Why do you think you’re still alive, Yixing? You’ve been marked. You are Wu Yifan’s to kill.”
Yixing pushes words through the spun glass piling up inside his gullet. “Then you knew I wasn’t dead.”
“I didn’t know. What I did know was that if you were, then someone would have to answer for it.”
“And if I was married?”
Yifan smiles. It’s a terrifying smile.
“I was coming to take you,” he repeats. “Make of that what you will.”
Yixing shuts his eyes, tightens his jaw. “You’re unbelievable.”
Yifan’s voice is hard when he replies. Scared, too, maybe. Somehow both at the same time. “Did you forget who I was, in the two years that passed? Did you make up an image in your head somehow, that I was a good man? Wake up, Yixing. I’m not a good man. You’ve always known that. Open your fucking eyes.” Yixing does. Yifan’s stare is piercing. “You’ve always known that,” he says again. “And you fell in love with me anyway.”
“I think we’re past that,” Yifan cuts him off, severe. “That’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re driving away from everything you’ve ever known with a criminal in your stolen car.” Very slowly, as if not to spook him, he takes Yixing’s wrist between his hands. “Yixing. Baby.”
And oh, his voice is gentle now, his inflexion stiller than the sea.
“Don’t,” Yixing warns him, tries to retract his hand. Yifan tightens his grip, traps him there.
“I know you’re tired,” he says. “Do you want to know why I came to your apartment? The real reason?”
“Sure,” Yixing snickers bitterly. “Whatever the fuck.”
“Because I’m tired too, Yixing.” Time stills for a breath, suspended. Yixing looks at him in the night, half his face eaten by the darkness and the other half light like the surface of the moon, and for a fraction of a second he is transported a decade before. They are standing man to man, stripped of names and functions.
And then he blinks, and he is back in the car, holding his breath, Yifan’s fingers burning like a steaming red brand on the inside of Yixing’s forearm.
Yifan lets out a shaky exhale. “Because I wanted to go home.”
: : :