They say dreams are the manifestation of repressed longing, of desires that can’t be expressed in daily life.
Maybe that was why Xu Xilin dreamed about his youth so often, especially the memories he had with Dou Xun.
In his dream, he was 19 again, stuffed in between his closet and bed, the tight space couldn’t fit even one growing adolescent boy. And yet there they were, stacked on top of each other to hide from the blinding light and peeping eyes, almost too tight for comfort but better the dark and somber bathroom.
They would always fight who got to be on top because whoever ended up in the bottom would be squished from all sides, and Dou Xun almost always won, having the edge over physicality from all the martial arts training. That day was one of the rare occasions when Xu Xilin took the advantage to push Dou Xun onto the blankets when he missed his footings, and plopped on top before he had the chance to recover.
Dou Xun made a punched out noise as Xu Xilin landed with a loud thud onto him, but his groan was cut off short with Xu Xilin pinching his cheeks and kissing his lips. He responded with gusto, his hands flew up to hold Xu Xilin’s head in place as he deepened the kiss.
Dou Xun’s kisses were always so passionate, so forceful, he treated every time like the first and the last. Xu Xilin was kissed till he was out of breath, his head dizzy with the lack of air, but the last thing he wanted was those lips being anywhere but on his.
A breathless moment later, they parted, and a conversation sprung, as they always talked about everything, from university life to business stuff to nonsensical things that were long gone from his memory by this point, because all that was left on his mind was fingers carding through his hair, bright and brilliant eyes that twinkled with a smile, the pleasant warmth under him. They all turned his mind into a puddle, that all came out of his mouth was mindless things, but thankfully, Dou Xun didn’t mind because so was he.
Grandma was home, so they had to be careful and discreet, but they were just two hot-blooded
youngsters that got in over their heads until their laughs were too loud and there were sounds downstairs, and Xu Xilin would hide his snickers between the dip of Dou Xun’s neck, feeling the slight tremble of the person below him and knowing that he too was suppressing his laughs and failing at it.
Back in those days, it was a thrilling moment; like they were hiding a secret no one knew about, like it was one of those action spy movies they loved watching. Dou Xun turned to give him a kiss on the cheek, and they stayed in the embrace quietly, waiting for the movement downstairs to settle, the silence jittery but exciting nevertheless. The sunlight dripped in through the windows, painting the room with a golden color like soft sand, the warmth bounced off the wall and settled on them, making it almost unbearably hot and difficult to breathe, but it was a type of discomfort he was willing to endure.
For a while, that was enough. That was all Xu Xilin had needed.
When Xu Xilin opened his eyes again, the golden sunlight had been replaced with a darkened sky, the little light from the moon outside which came through neglected windows illuminated the room just enough to see the shadows, in place of warmth was a dawning coldness, the softness in his chest replaced with a stabbing pain in his stomach that woke him up. He had fallen asleep on the couch after coming back from work, and the weather had always been unpredictable during the fall, because the room was freezing cold although no windows were opened.
Xu Xilin’s thought went to the loss of warmth and of a person who had been right below him. In the mind that was still clouded with sleepiness, he wondered disorientedly.
Where was his Dou Xun?
It took him staring at the ceiling for a minute before realizing, Dou Xun had been far away for years, pushed away by him, no longer ‘his’ Dou Xun to call. Nevertheless, the dream brought up memories that came back like water through a broken dam.
Dou Xun’s emotions had always laid so bare, so unafraid of being vulnerable. It was a youthful age where everyone had a hallucination of invincibility, and he was no exception, if not more so with his hard-headedness and insistence.
That bare and open expression when Xu Xilin had called an end to what they had, that unhidden fear and brokenness in his eyes that Xu Xilin couldn't forget after so many years, as if it had just been yesterday.
The name was on his lips that Xu Xilin wanted to repeat again and again, but he didn’t dare to say it, fearing it would be the knife that cut all the strings that had held him together. He had always kept himself busy with work to keep the thoughts away, but when it came to sleepless nights laced with dull pains that were now his familiar friend, he had no way of stopping all the memories flooding back.
The night felt especially fuzzy, and he could barely make sense of his surroundings in this state. It was as if the freezing cold was coming from his body, but Xu Xilin welcomed the distraction nevertheless, trying to focus on the lightheadedness it gave him instead of the sharp pain in his heart.
Xu Xilin must have hallucinated in that hazy moment, because there was almost a voice calling his name, one so familiar yet it was not, that it must have been his wistful mind playing tricks on him.
His face was patted softly by warm hands, the voice was louder this time, and Xu Xilin shook into wakefulness.
The sun was teetering, the early morning light was streaming through the thin curtain, and he was on the bed instead of the couch of his lonely house.
Well, not lonely anymore, because Dou Xun was here, inches away from Xu Xilin, his face laced with worry as his hand was on Xu Xilin’s cheek.
“Are you okay? You caught a fever.”
“Ah.” Xu Xilin mused, his voice was nasal. That explained the fumbled dream. “Did I do anything weird?”
“You called my name.” Dou Xun said quietly, his fingers still tracing his skin, and Xu Xilin belatedly realized they were wet.
He merely smiled and stretched out his arms around Dou Xun’s neck and tried to pull him in. “Dou Xianer, your sense of presence is too strong, I can even see you in my dreams.”
Dou Xun wasn't phased by the tease and merely clapped Xu Xilin’s forehead before he left to get the medications.
After Dou Xun moved in, Xu Xilin’s house was like a house again, with food filling the fridge and unexpired medications, and patient Xu Xilin was well taken care of by Dr. Dou Xun who was overqualified for this.
“It was all because of Lao Ye’s terrible luck.” Xu Xilin sighed exaggeratedly. “But also, who told you running out in the middle of the rain is a good idea!?”
Dr. Dou Xun who was carefully wiping down his sweats heard this and slapped the towel on him. “Stay quiet, your fever is so high already, stop acting so nonchalant.”
Then maybe Dou Xun did think that it was his fault, so after Xu Xilin was wiped down and took the medications, Dou Xun bent down to kiss his forehead. Xu Xilin took the opportunity to hook on Dou Xun’s waist and pulled him down on the mattress, his headache panged as the world tumbled in his movement. But Dou Xun was caught off guard underneath him with a gaping face, and Xu Xilin felt like he was nineteen again, fumbling around with the boy he loved in the little cocoon Xu Jin had teased him about.
He landed on Dou Xun with a thud, and in the midst of the throbbing pain and Dou Xun yelling at him in horror for being an idiot, Xu Xilin was hit with the realization: They didn’t have to scurry in between the tight and humid hole between his bed and his closet anymore, they could be loud if they wanted to, not only at home but when they were out with friends, and their closest friends wouldn’t have minded.
This was no longer a secret. Xu Xilin had never felt so glad to know he could hold Dou Xun without hiding anymore.
Maybe the fever dreams were overwhelming, maybe it was the cold getting to him, but as soon as the realization settled, the corner of Xu Xilin’s eyes burned hotly, and his voice carried a nasal sound when he spoke a moment later.
“You made me feel so tired in the dream, pay up and lay there. Maybe I can get you sick too and we can get two days off.”
Usually, Dou Xun would have scolded at his self-negligent attitude at times like this, but he still remembered the quiet whispers of his name on Xu Xilin’s lips, the watery touch on his fingers stuck with him like glue, so Dou Xun merely sighed and and kissed the wet hair, never having the words to what he felt.
True to Xu Xilin’s wishes, when he got a bit better the next day, Dou Xun came down with the cold, which gave the lazy gremlin Xu Xilin an excuse to ask off from work again and snuggle happily in bed, all the while ignoring Dou Xun’s exasperated complaints about getting sick, and life was like a dream.