The sounds of wedding vows are bittersweet to Yifan’s ears. He is delighted for Tao, he really is. It’s not every day that you stand at your best friend’s side as he declares his love so openly and confidently to the person he thinks is his soulmate. But, Yifan feels sick, queasy. It triggers memories for him, ones that haunt him like he’s an empty house full of ghosts. He’s suddenly at an altar, Tao and Lu Han behind him, and the love of his life in front of him.
Then it’s there. The pale face, lips blued by death’s ensnaring hands, and a single teardrop falling from pained eyes. He’s no longer present in the room he’s actually in, he’s reliving a death that wasn’t his own, and he only comes back when a cheer ripples through the room.
Rings have been given and a kiss shared, all whilst Yifan was glazed over and consumed by an uneasy wave of grief. Tao turns to him, grinning, and he glances past Yifan to see Lu Han, and Yifan can only just about bring himself to clap.
“You’re doing okay, you’re doing great,” Lu Han comforts, rubbing his back with a flat palm as they watch the newly married couple depart. “You’ve got past the hard part.”
Lu Han guides him to the reception area once Tao and his wife, Qian, leave the chapel, and Yifan finds his seat on the top table. There’s already champagne at his seat, so he downs it quickly in one go. Usually, Lu Han doesn’t let him drink much. Not anymore. He grew tired of Yifan’s clothes and entire life being doused and saturated in liquors and wines, so he started to watch over him.
This day, Yifan can already sense, is different. Lu Han doesn’t stop him when he reaches for his second, third, fourth, fifth flute of champagne before most of the guests have even found their name cards on the table. They know Yifan won’t get blackout drunk, he could never do that to Tao or Qian, but he needs to numb the pain. He’s sipping on his sixth glass when Lu Han calls out a name unfamiliar to Yifan, a name that Yifan doesn’t think much of. Until he realises that the owner of that name brings both pain and healing.
The way Yixing dances is unlike anything Yifan’s ever encountered before, it’s edged with grace and power. He’s lost in the music, as if possessed by the sound as he lets it move through his body. He’s so beautiful that it makes Yifan feel sick, bile rising up in his throat, only settling when Yixing’s pressed up against the large mirrors of the studio.
When Yifan has time to think, he feels guilt. It’s a different kind of love but it still feels like betrayal, he still wears his wedding band as he brushes his fingertips over Yixing’s cheek. Yet, when Yixing’s raw and vulnerable in his hands, all he wants to do is print 爱 on every inch of his skin. He hopes his love can protect Yixing from him, hopes Yixing can wear it like armour when Yifan eventually falls apart.
Lu Han introduces Yixing to Yifan, and Yifan recognises him from Qian’s side of the wedding.
“I work with Qian; we co-own the studio. She does ballet and lyrical dance; I do hip-hop and contemporary.” Yifan doesn’t care much for dancing but he’s staring at Yixing, at how gentle and kind he looks when he speaks up at him, radiant with happiness. And Yifan’s stomach twists again. He wishes this man wasn’t so beautiful that the wedding ring on his finger burns. He hasn’t been blindsided with beauty like this in almost two and a half years, and it stabs at his heart until the glass in his hand feels like it’s going to break under the pressure of his fingers.
The pain within Yifan obtunds for a moment and the world goes yellow when Yixing smiles, he’s blind and numb to everything but this man’s happiness.
Yixing’s body splays out like perfection in Yifan’s bed, warming it and bringing life to this room. Their bodies are bound together, Yixing’s legs hooked around his waist and his hands in Yifan’s hair. It’s slow, intimate, and too close to feeling like love, that bile rises up in Yifan’s throat. Yixing’s marvellous and Yifan’s stomach drops completely. He pulls away and staggers to his bedroom’s bathroom.
He’s red with shame as he retches in the bowl of the toilet, with Yixing rubbing his back and kissing his shoulder. They’re still naked, Yixing’s cheeks still flushed from arousal, and the embarrassment makes Yifan want to curl into a ball to escape this feeling.
It feels so close to cheating, to be finding pleasure in Yixing’s body and love in his heart. And it’s worse that Yixing understands. He cleans Yifan’s face, wiping up the remnants of his vomit and tears with a warm, damp cloth. Yixing smiles softly at him, stroking through his hair and guiding him back to bed. He kisses the side of Yifan’s mouth before going back into the bathroom, cleaning it and ridding it of the acidic stench.
Yifan worries that Yixing will leave, that he’ll put his clothes on and leave him all alone. But, Yixing doesn’t, he comes back to Yifan’s side and cradles Yifan against his chest.
“It’s okay,” Yixing whispers as Yifan begins to fall asleep, drawn in by the sound of Yixing’s heartbeat. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Yifan is trembling across the table from Yixing, so nervous he can’t even hold his chopsticks properly, and Yifan doesn’t know what to do. It’s been years since he last went on a first date, and he doesn’t know if it’s because of the nerves or the effort he’s putting into muting the voice in his head that calls him a betrayer, that he’s like this.
Yixing says nothing about it but does small things that bring Yifan comfort. It’s Yixing who pours the water and wine; it’s Yixing who places food into Yifan’s dish; it’s Yixing who talks to their waiter in the kindest voice Yifan’s heard in over two and a half years. He’s gentle with how he leads Yifan through their date, never asking anything too personal or deep.
There’s no curiosity from Yixing towards the wedding band on his finger. But Yifan assumes that he knows. Lu Han or Tao would have said something, given him some kind of warning.
When he gets home, Lu Han and Tao are stood in front of his building with beer, sitting with Yifan all night as he drinks himself to sleep. They watch over him and don’t pity him when he cries, begging for them to tell him if he’s a terrible husband for wanting to see Yixing.
Lu Han gives him a small smile when he says: “Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. He would want you to be happy without him, even if it’s with someone else. You deserve to be happy again.”
Yifan wakes up in his own bed, alone but tucked in. Morning light slips in through where the blinds were closed, and his head feels as though it’s going to explode. He moves to turn over and bury his face back into his pillow, but catches sight of a glass of water, two tablets, and some fresh-looking cut orange segments on his bedside table. There’s a little note there, too.
I’m sure you have a nasty hangover, make sure you eat and drink lots of water to take the pain relief. Call me if you need me.
It’s Yixing’s writing, albeit slightly shakier than Yifan knows it to be, but Yifan doesn’t remember seeing him the night before. It was the third anniversary and Yifan had holed himself up in a bar for the entire day, he doesn’t remember getting home, but he can assume Yixing was involved. Lu Han would have simply put him on the sofa and Tao would have taken him back to his apartment for Qian and him to look after Yifan.
Only Yixing would be hesitant to stay on the third anniversary of Yifan’s husband’s death, too aware of how Yifan’s feelings for him can stir so much guilt that he feels physically sick. He does as the note instructs, about to take the dishes back to the kitchen when there a buzz from his phone and it’s Lu Han, the words “Let us up,” written on the screen.
Yifan dresses in a hoodie and sweatpants, dragging his body to the door to click the button to let Lu Han and whoever he’s brought with him into the building and Yifan leaves the front door slightly ajar. He can hear them before he sees them, so he walks towards the entryway. Yifan wants to be coddled but Lu Han is furious, too angry to hold himself back from shoving Yifan’s shoulders sharply.
“I know yesterday was hard for you but seriously?” Lu Han roars and Yifan looks just past Lu Han’s shoulders to see Tao and Qian.
For the first time in all the years that he’s known Qian, he has never seen her look as wrathful as this, she’s almost crying and Tao’s holding her trembling hand. But, Yifan can sense, even through the heavy weight of his hangover, that it’s to comfort Qian, not hold her back.
Yifan knows he’s fucked up and there’s only one person, apart from Tao, between both he and Qian that she could possibly care about enough to look physically pained by anger.
“How dare you say that to him,” her voice is calm, but it quakes, cracking slightly. “Your grief does not give you the right to hurt other people.”
“I don’t even know what I said,” Yifan fumbles, anxiety clutching at his heart, but there’s an image in his mind. Yixing’s face falling, his lower lip quivering and his eyes glistening with tears in the low light of a bar, and then the painful sight of him trying to hide his pain.
Yifan doesn’t know what he’s done but that single memory alone dulls the feeling of being alive.
Yifan’s mesmerised by how Yixing moves, eyes focused on Yixing’s form even when he and Qian come together perfectly.
“I used to be jealous of Yixing,” Tao whispers in his ear, and Yifan glances over at him, surprised. Tao is the furthest thing from the jealous type, he’s usually so self-assured. But he shrugs before continuing, “The way Qian loves him is special. I know she loves me, and is in love with me, but with Yixing… It’s not romantic, it’s like they’re soulmates, bonded together in ways we couldn’t ever understand. I want to know that side of her, too, because it’s easy to them. I don’t think they could live without each other.”
Tao softens his voice when he says the last sentence, not wanting to prod at the still-open wound in Yifan’s chest. And Yifan wants to be able to see it, but when he looks back at the dancing duo, all he can see is Yixing and his radiance.
Yifan cries when he remembers his own voice saying, “You’ll never be him, why do you even try? Just leave me alone.”
Then that image of Yixing’s face flashes through his head again, of how wounded Yixing looked. But, he didn’t get angry, he simply gulped it down and came towards Yifan, holding his arm lightly to tug him away from the bar.
Yixing says, “I’ll take him home,” to someone else, most likely the bartender, and everything fades after that.
If Yifan had hated himself for feeling love for Yixing already, he’d managed to worsen it tenfold. Yifan understands Qian’s fury. Lu Han’s, too. He even starts to feel it towards himself.
The nightmares Yifan has been having for over five years. Now, it’s not only his husband that lays lifelessly before him, it’s Yixing, too. Both of them are so pale, devoid of all happiness and what makes Yifan feel like it’s right to be alive, in the black void they inhabit. They don’t wake when he screams their names, they don’t answer his cries, and then they fade away from him to leave him completely alone the darkness.
Waking is difficult, as if his misery wants to keep him trapped in that chamber where life has no meaning and love does not exist outside of the pain that consumes him. When he used to get out of bed in search of any kind of alcohol, now he feels for someone else by his side.
He’s soothed by Yixing looking down at him from above, rubbing his cheek and humming a gentle lullaby. He feels safe and warm, comforted by the fact that Yixing’s alive and beside him, and he relaxes into the mattress again.
Yixing moves his hand from where it cups his cheek, placing his fingers over Yifan’s chest—next to where his wedding ring has moved from his finger to a necklace chain—and tracing 爱 there over and over again until slumber claims Yifan again.
Yifan doesn’t know what possesses him to ask Lu Han for Yixing’s number, all he knows is that listening to Yixing speak helped to ease something within him. He wants more of it. He doesn’t want to feel empty inside or dominated by a sadness he cannot shake. Lu Han gives him the number the next day, wary when he looks at Yifan and says, “I asked for his permission first.”
It’s clear to Yifan what Lu Han means when he pats Yifan’s shoulder afterwards, that Yixing’s open and interested. Yifan wants to give him a chance and it takes four days for him to swallow down the sensation of infidelity with half a bottle of baijiu and send Yixing a message.
It’s loaded with irony in Yifan’s mind that he gets drunk before he goes to Yixing’s flat, unannounced and riddled with anxious guilt. He can’t do this sober; he can’t tell Yixing he’s so in love with him that it hurts to breathe because he doesn’t feel like he deserves to love again. It’s not Yixing who answers the intercom, however, it’s his flatmate and Yifan almost has trouble getting the words out to say, “Is Yixing there?”
“It’s Yifan. Is Yixing in?”
“Give me one second,” the guy says and Yifan hears him place the intercom phone down on a table.
He can also hear the muted question of, “Your boyfriend is here, want me to buzz him up?”
There’s no response and the phone gets put down, and Yifan feels his heart shatter. Nothing can feel worse than watching the life leave his husband’s eyes, but the numbness in his chest feels different. With the death, it was helplessness and complete loss that coursed through his body. But, with this, it’s self-inflicted, it’s beating his heart back into the darkness.
Then, with red cheeks and puffy eyes, Yixing appears in front of him. He’s been crying, he still is crying, and Yifan reaches for him. Yixing doesn’t hesitate to go into his arms, squeezing around his waist, and sobbing with deep gulps of air.
“I’m so sorry,” Yifan whispers, “I’m so, so, so sorry.”
Yixing stays there for a long while and Yifan can’t help but cry, too. He always feels so raw and frayed by his emotions and seeing Yixing so vulnerable as he clings to him, scratches away the veneer that keeps everything inside.
“I’m sorry for falling in love with you,” Yixing whispers, mouth frowning and eyes downcast, guilty for falling in love.
Yifan truly hates himself because he can’t seem to be able to tell Yixing that it’s okay, or that he loves him too. Even with all the alcohol in his veins.
He just hopes Yixing can tell from the way he kisses him.
When Yifan’s stood at an altar again, Lu Han’s in front of him, reciting vows and dedicating himself to love until his days are gone. And Yifan’s stomach rolls like a ship in a storm, draining his face of blood, and spinning his mind on an axis. His own wedding plays through his head again, just as crisp and clear as it was at Tao’s wedding, and there’s that harrowing and husking image of his husband so still in death that he looks porcelain.
The floor feels like it could slip away from beneath him. Then, suddenly, he’s grounded. There’s a hand reaching out to hold his, to rub a thumb over his knuckles and keep a body close to him. He glances around to see Yixing looking up at him, eyes wide with care and concern, layered over so beautifully with love, and everything stills.
Yifan’s fixated on the way Yixing animates everything he says, punctuating his sentences with pouts of his lips and the raising of his eyebrows. It takes Yifan an hour to get through that sixth flute of champagne. They stand side by side as Tao takes his first dance with Qian, then Qian searches for someone in the crowd and grins even wider when she spots Yixing amongst the throng.
Declining a dance with this beautiful stranger feels like the right thing to do inside Yifan’s head, to quell the voice that’s aghast by how stricken he is by Yixing, but his heart longs. Tao comes to his side and wraps an arm around Yifan’s shoulder, confessing: “I used to be jealous of Yixing.”
Yixing likes touch, likes being tactile and close, and Yifan has always craved intimacy. It works best after sex, when Yixing’s legs are still around Yifan’s waist, and breaths still heave out of Yifan’s lungs across Yixing’s cheek. They stay bound, connected, as they near sleep, and looking at Yixing in such a pure moment of vulnerability opens something within Yifan’s heart. It washes over him in a sensation of being unshackled, relinquished from that fist that holds him so tightly that it chokes him and the cavity he harbours his love for Yixing in.
Yifan, lips parted by words that get trapped in his throat, wants more than anything to tell Yixing that he loves him, that he truly means it.
Instead, Yixing smiles gently and whispers, “I know you do,” and kisses Yifan so softly it feels like a punch to the chest. It’s beautiful.
And that’s when the words pour out, straight from Yifan’s lips and onto Yixing’s: “I love you; I love you; I love you.”