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Before the beginning and after the end [translation from RUS]

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During descending from the stage after their final bow Xiao Zhan thinks he sees Wang YiBo swaying a little when he walks to his dressing room without looking back.

That's right, he thinks. It's easier. And, trying not to follow the other with his eyes, he heads to his own, immediately carried away by his manager’s endless chatering; the words swarm Xiao Zhan with waterfalls of sentences, but he can’t make out any of them.

The manager spins around, minting every syllable like a sentence. “You have twenty minutes to pack and ten to get a hold of yourself,” and then gets distracted by a phone call.

Xiao Zhan is not sure if he is even fully aware of his actions moving more on autopilot; he carefully pulls off the suit with the familiar moves, pours down half a bottle of water, lets out half-weary and tired breath while putting on the clothes more convenient for a flight, and for some reason hesitates when it comes to the mask, after a moment putting it on.

Looking at himself in the mirror for the last time, Xiao Zhan walks out, hailing the nearest assistant to pack the remaining stuff, then heads to the other actors, still unconsciously searching around for one single figure ― more out of habit rather than out of a desire to actually see

Because it is frightening. And it certainly won’t get better.

The manager catches him halfway, shakes his head almost imperceptibly, and briefly describes the car that will bring Xiao Zhan to the airport. Xiao Zhan nods absentmindedly and tries to make full use of the allotted minutes.

Many in the team look at him with understanding. Yu Bin comes up, envelops his arms behind his back in a goodbye and claps his shoulder ― there is no awkwardness or inadequacy with him, and Xiao Zhan forces himself to cut this thought off ― keeping this out of harm's way without pointless comparisons. He says his goodbyes to the rest of the cast, thanking everyone for the work done while experiencing the whole palette of sadness with no light shades in it when he looks at several group photos dropped into their chat by someone.

Throwing a last look around him he imprints this in his memory leaving behind a story worth several lives.

When Xiao Zhan sees the car he doesn’t even feel regretful, almost grateful that everything is exactly as it is, but someone’s hand grabs his wrist tightly, and at that moment everything inside of him collapses with a deafening howl of sirens.

No energy left to turn around. Even less so ― to pull the hand out of the grip. The one behind him would accept any option, Xiao Zhan is sure, but right now he can’t even breathe.

All that remains is to just close his eyes.

The hand becomes more impatient and pulls him back, making him move his legs and follow ― because Xiao Zhan was given enough time to think, and he’s made his decision ― in reality, only four seconds passed.

He is dragged into some sort of a tiny storage room not far from the exit and is pressed against its door.

“Look at me,” is said with an almost trembling voice, half-hoarse.

Wang YiBo used to say that hundreds of times before with a playful intonation, adding only the name with the "-ge". Xiao Zhan has always liked it, although he wouldn’t admit this even to himself.

Under the weight of the drooping eyelids such words are more suitable for a murder weapon.

The dim light sets off the bags under the eyes in front of him that are no longer smothered with a foundation cream, and the painfully familiar face ― painted in his mind several dozens times during the filming instead of those hours of sleep that he was already lacking ― looks more and more exhausted with every passing second.

And Xiao Zhan looks. He is looking and can’t get enough, can’t say a word, he is silent and is waiting for something while his poor heart is trying to break through his chest.

The steps sweep outside the door and Wang YiBo’s manager curses, that the latter doesn’t seem to pay any attention to.

“Wang YiBo, there―” 

Xiao Zhan doesn’t get the opportunity to finish.

He is hugged tightly, bone-crushingly, to the point when he can’t breathe, like for the last time in his life. This is not the end, certainly not, right now it is close to a new beginning ― that's it, they are on its doorstep ― but saying goodbye for an indefinite amount of time is always difficult.

One small wet drop runs under his collar, face rubbing against his shoulder, and Xiao Zhan presses against the other tightly, not letting him pull away ― right, they can steal a few minutes more out of each other’s lives, because none of them is ready yet.

Their phones chim at the same time with short notifications of the received messages, breaking the intimate silence.

“We will meet again some day,” Wang YiBo whispers in his ear and after several endless seconds lightly, almost righteously, kisses the corner of his lips through the mask quickly moving away, and pulls him by his hand away from the door, keeping their hands clasped together a little longer than they should have.

When the door slams shut before his eyes, Xiao Zhan imagines for a moment a squeak of hospital devices informing of a cardiac arrest.

He shakes his head, immediately driving it away and squints when the car meets him with the blinding headlights.