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Hold Hands With You, Grow Old With You

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    BY was simply sat down on the side of their bed when ZYL found him after coming home from work. He had called out from the doorstep, greeting him with his usual "I'm home, Xiao Bai". And normally, he would get an answer back, even when BY was in the shower--ZYL never understood how he did this, it was like he had heightened senses.


    Except today, he was met with silence. Which was strange. ZYL didn't remember BY having any schedule for the night. They always shared their respective work schedules with one another as to not lose track of what the other was doing and be able to help each other out when needed. And ZYL never received a text message or a call from BY telling him he was going out for whatever reason either.


    Silently slipping out of his shoes and dropping his coat and belongings on the couch, ZYL tiptoed around the house with round eyes. At first glance, everything seemed normal and in order: the living room showed no sign of human presence, pillows and sheets still neatly ironed and placed; the kitchen was clean without any dish in the drying rack or lingering food smell; the bathroom's lights were turned off, no steam wafting out of the room. Even their little balcony's plants had been watered and were swaying to the wind without a care in the world.


    It was only when he stopped in front of the bedroom that ZYL heaved a silent sigh of relief. BY was there, at the side of the bed, his back facing him. He was wearing ZYL's pale yellow hoodie that was three sizes bigger than him. From afar, he looked like a small fluffball and that thought was enough to melt ZYL's heart.
    He came closer, curious about what the other was doing but especially eager to surprise him with a hug.
    "Xiao Bai is not welcoming me home?" he teased lightheartedly, gently wrapping his arms around BY from behind as he sat down next to him.
    ZYL expected a jolt from him, a little funny squeak he wouldn't be able to hold in. Then BY would turn around to fire witty replies at him with a smirk and the tip of his nose held high like he knew he was going to win the playful argument. ZYL didn't expect a quivering sigh and hands clutching his sleeves tightly like BY would fall if he let go.


    ZYL frowned, his heart clenching in worry. "Xiao Bai...?" he asked as he peeked from over the other's shoulder.
    But BY turned his head away, hiding his face. ZYL still caught a glimpse of his eyelashes trembling and glistening with tears. He didn't wait to readjust himself in front of BY, keeping a warm yet firm hold of his hands.
    However, as he did, he noticed old polaroid pictures scattered on the bedsheets, which stopped him midway. Pictures of BY's old performances back when he was still a student. Some of his days during the start of the millennium. Others of his first dramas and behind-the-scenes that came with them. Why had BY fished these old memories out now? Had there been worries, doubts on his mind? For how long?


    ZYL's concerned gaze travelled from the pictures to BY who didn't dare look at him. Finally settling down, he wore a calm and poised facade to conceal his distress.
    "What's wrong?" he asked with the soft voice he always took when dealing with delicate topics with the younger man.
   In deep thought, BY nibbled at his lips before pursing them. ZYL gave him time, never moving his eyes away from him. He hoped he'd open up.
    "I..." He pressed his lips together again, struggling to begin, searching for the right words. In the end, he looked down, drops of tears finally landing on his cheeks. "I just feel like I've made so many mistakes... mistakes I can't go back to and make up for..."


    ZYL didn't say anything but his eyes held all the empathy and compassion he had for him, waiting for BY's gaze to meet his and find solace in it. But BY went on, only staring down: "I can't help but feel remorse." He lightly chuckled in self-pity. "It's so unlike me."
    The bright and bubbly BY the latter usually showed to others also had his own worries. Despite living by the motto of "following your heart" and striving to be the best he could be, he still experienced downs, moments of sheer vulnerability and hesitation. ZYL tried to help him as much as he could when the younger man went through tough times, giving him a shoulder to cry on, an ear to be heard.
    BY whispered, "It's so pitiful, isn't it?"
    And no matter what, ZYL never accepted BY trivializing his concerns or feelings. Without a word, ZYL slowly hugged BY, leaving the latter time to push him away. Which he didn't do. He only circled his arms around from below ZYL's, holding on to the back of his shirt as he propped his chin on ZYL's shoulder. BY knew this silent reassurance meant he was wrong to emotionally hurt himself like this.
    "It's okay, Xiao Bai," ZYL said as he gently stroked his fluffy hair. "If we humans had to run after every mistake we did, we'd never stop running."


    BY blinked away a few more tears. ZYL's comforting words—always some kind of analogy or imagery—were making his throat feel tight and grazed but he managed to spill out a coherent sentence. "Still, I never tried redeeming myself for some of them when I could..."
    He didn't know why he was waiting for the head pats to stop after his statement; they never did though. Deep down him, BY could tell that he wouldn't recover if ZYL let go of him right at this moment and looked at him with disappointment. If he did, then he really would fall.
    "At least you're acknowledging your faults that's a start," ZYL said, showing him the bright side of the situation. He wanted to bring some light in BY's dark thoughts without covering reality with sugarcoated lies.


    Clearly, BY wasn't convinced. "But, Long Ge, taking action is what's important." His grip on ZYL tightened as if he was scared the words he'd utter with his raspy voice would materialize and drag him down with them. "I... I lost the opportunity to do so."
    ZYL deepened the hug to offer the younger more support. It was his turn to not be convinced. "What's important is not committing the same mistakes again," he started softly, his voice carrying gentle candour. "No one can't go back but anyone can move forward and make things better in the future."
    Slowly, he loosened his embrace, just enough to watch BY's facial expression with tenderness—BY wasn't ready for them to part yet. "You never lost the opportunity, it's still there because you're still here." Their eyes finally met. "Let's learn from the past, not live in it."


    BY stared wordlessly at ZYL's soft face, at his eyes sparkling with hope. His down-to-earth mindset was like a bandage on BY's emotional wounds. His words resonated with him like nobody else's.
    The younger sniffled once, holding back more tears that wanted to spill. The older noticed and a soft smile stretched his lips to defuse the sentimental mood. Without realizing, BY followed, his cheeks rising in the process. ZYL then wiped the half-dried tears away from his cheeks with his thumb before he brushed his tousled bangs aside and carefully left a fond kiss on his forehead.


    "Don't you ever feel ashamed of where you come from. You've come so far, Xiao Bai. Now is not the time to give up."


     And a second kiss. The affection was too much for BY's heart; he hid his face in the crook of ZYL's neck. It was warm.


    "No, of course not, Long Ge," he reassured him, his voice coming out muffled and somewhat sleepy. "I'd never go back on the decisions that led me to where I am now."


ZYL felt BY snuggling in his spot, his beard funnily stroking his exposed skin.
    "And... I wouldn't have met you if I had chosen otherwise..."
    BY felt ZYL lowering his head, planting a kiss above his ear.


    "Yes," ZYL twinkled at him like the happiest man on Earth. BY thought his eye smile must be protected from ever losing its brightness. "I'm here for you."
    "And I, for you," BY completed with a grin.