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Your funeral, my trial

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Theirs was a professional affair.

Not even that, it was hardly an affair after all. There were no flowers, no poems, no long night walks through the city. No hushed confessions, no secret meetings, or jealous others.

Instead, there was companionable misery. 

Jing Ran had first encountered Procurator Jiang Yang during a case. He had been accused of having purposely ignored the ancient burial grounds hidden underneath the proposed location of the hotel Jing Ran was supposed to design.

Expecting an old, angry man who would demand a bribe, Jing Ran was pleasantly surprised by a young and kind Jiang Yang who promised him to look into facts and the evidence. It didn’t help much then – Jing Ran’s employer decided to put all the blame on him, quickly changing him from the most desirable architect of the elites into a public enemy. Jiang Yang’s nice, non-judgmental smile was the only bright thing about that time, their meetings though not exactly pleasant, still offered Jing Ran a reprieve, a small moment when he didn’t have to deal with unbiased hatred towards himself.

During the sleepless nights when he could neither sleep nor work, Jing Ran’s mind allowed himself to wonder, to conjure different scenarios in which he got his reputation restored and he would somehow thank the Procurator for believing him when no one else would.

In the end, he was acquitted of the crime – he wasn’t sure if it was his lawyer’s splendid work, or Jiang Yang’s determination to stick to the facts and unearthing the evidence that proved that the information regarding the burial grounds was purposely withheld from Jing Ran. Whichever it was, Jing Ran left the court room hoping that now everything would go back to normal.

No such luck.

The locals living in the small village where the accursed hotel was meant to be built got a wind of the problem thanks to the media coverage of the whole trial and the protests started. Having half of the facts but a lot of enthusiasm, the protesting villagers chose Jing Ran as the face of the brutal capitalism that tried to destroy tradition and had no respect for the dead. After getting another letter with threats and then having his car vandalized, Jing Ran came back to Jiang Yang’s office, this time as the accuser.

Life didn’t seem to be easy for the Procurator either then. Though only a few months had passed, he looked exhausted, there were dark circles underneath his eyes and his skin looked a little sallow. Despite that, he took on Jing Ran’s case and promised to look into it, to bring those responsible to justice.

“Shouldn’t the police search for evidence?” Jing Ran asked and a complicated expression appeared on Jiang Yang’s face.

“We like to double check,” the man replied and though it was clear there was more to it, Jing Ran let it go.

He was back in the same office a few days later, with a new crime to add to the charges – someone had slashed his tires.

Jiang Yang’s eyes widened then and Jing Ran was temporarily distracted from his own problems by the panic hiding in the procurator’s eyes.

“Everything alright?” Jiang Yang’s eyes immediately strayed to the office door. They were closed, and after a minute or so, the sudden tension left the man’s body.

“Someone cut the brakes in my car,” he confessed quietly, and Jing Ran’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Because you took on my case?” he asked incredulously and Jiang Yang actually smiled at that, his face lighting up a bit, lifting the heaviness from his frame for a minute.

“No. It’s a different case. Procurator is not a very popular job in these parts.”

“Neither is an architect,” Jing Ran replied, and returned the smile.

There was a certain understanding between them, a connection born from their respective burdens, it seemed.

The case ended with the villagers responsible fined and imprisoned, and that should have been it.

But their lives didn’t stop, nor did the attacks.

Jing Ran’s assistant got assaulted by the hotel owner’s man.

Jiang Yang’s window got broken.

They met in a bar, by a pure accident and Jing Ran wondered if he looked as bad as Jiang Yang did that day – it seemed as if life was being sucked out of him in those periods when they didn’t see one another. He still tried to smile, and his eyes shone with grim determination whenever he talked about his case, the one he refused to let go of. He was a good companion nevertheless, listening to Jing Ran’s own story without offering any platitudes and with a silent understanding of a man going through the same. The isolation. The despair, the unfairness of this all. The fear.

It wasn’t a surprise that they ended up in a bed together – misery loves company and even when eaten alive by the case, Jiang Yang was easy on the eyes.

What was surprising was that it happened more than once. They didn’t set up any dates, they didn’t even exchange personal information aside from their names, but every time one of them suffered another blow, they somehow managed to find each other. It was easy to forget just for the night, to get lost in the tangle of bodies.

They never talked about it the next day – Jiang Yang left silently with the first rays of the sun to return to his own anguish, leaving Jing Ran alone and inexplicably cold.

He never asked Jiang Yang to stay.

Then, it seemed that finally, finally, Jing Ran could get his old life back. The hotel owner was caught stealing from the nation and even media funded from his pockets couldn’t avoid talking about his trial. The burial ground case he had tried to pin on Jing Ran was the final nail in his coffin. Jing Ran got called as a witness and it felt freeing to see the man who almost ruined his life try and fail to protect himself with lies.

After leaving the courtroom, for the first time in a long while, Jing Ran was feeling happy. There was a certain lightness to him, the burden finally lifted from his shoulders. It wasn’t over, not yet -  there were the contracts he had lost, professional relationships he had to mend, but at least had hope now.

He wondered if he should call Jiang Yang. They weren’t even friends, not really, their whole relationship based on mutual comfort, but he felt like this was a feeling only Jiang Yang could understand fully.

Upon coming back to his home, Jing Ran got engulfed in his work, for the first time in a while feeling genuine inspiration.

He didn’t call Jiang Yang.

In the years that followed, he sometimes wondered if he should have had. Rebuilding his credibility took up most of his time and efforts, but there were nights when he woke up feeling bereft. Sometimes, during the interviews he caught himself thinking about Jiang Yang, answering questions regarding an ideal partner with ‘someone who would understand me’.

When he finally came back to China, once again as the nation’s source of pride, he promised himself that he would try to contact Jiang Yang again. He wasn’t even sure why. There was no relationship between them to get a closure to. Maybe it was just curiosity. Maybe he simply wanted to know if the Procurator’s fortune had also changed.

A day after his return, he learned of Jiang Yang’s sentence. Bribery, hiding evidence, falsifying trials.

Jing Ran’s first thought was that Jiang Yang couldn’t have done that. Not with his drive to ensure fair trials, not with his need to find the right evidence. This was not who Jiang Yang was. The man had a core of steel, his body wavered where his spirit didn’t. Jiang Yang couldn’t be bought.

Jing Ran’s second, more selfish thought, was that it was just well that he hadn’t contacted Jiang Yang back then, after the last trial. Rebuilding his credibility in the world with another scandal tied to his name would have been damn right impossible.

He should have forgotten about Jiang Yang.

And for some time, he did.

In his moments of extreme loneliness, Jing Ran reasoned with himself that it would have never worked between them back then – not brought down by circumstances, they were two people who were deeply devoted to their respective jobs. They would hardly meet, they wouldn’t be there for each other, they would be just two men with their burdens, united for a short while and then going on their separate ways.

It didn’t stop the longing, but it helped somewhat.

And then, one evening, Jing Ran was at home, watching the news – a terrorist attack in the metro of all things, but the negotiator managed to get the suitcase away from the frantic man who had brought it and now the police was going to deactivate the bomb inside.

An exciting piece of news, and Jing Ran watched closely just like all the other citizens, when the member of the bomb disposal unit opened the suitcase and revealed what was inside.

The reported was shrieking into the mic in shock, then shouting about an unidentified man’s body, but Jing Ran didn’t pay her any attention, his eyes glued to the body in the case.

Jiang Yang.

Though he looked even thinner, sicker, it was undoubtedly Jiang Yang. His body was curled inside the small space in a way that almost seemed natural – those few times he had stayed the night, Jiang Yang would lay just like that, his head resting on Jing Ran’s arm.

Jing Ran had held the body that was now stuffed in a suitcase, left for everyone to see. He had kissed that neck and felt the pulse there, held those hands. And now Jiang Yang was dead.

The hell he’s been suffering through had finally swallowed him whole.

Jing Ran stayed on the couch just like that, not moving a muscle, watching the news and not seeing the screen because of the tears running down his face.

Jing Ran had his career, his position back. He had the money and the connections to finally help him out, except it didn’t matter because Jiang Yang was dead. Murdered. Not even given a proper burial, but treated like luggage instead.

Dead.

The following weeks, Jing Ran could barely work. All his focus was on the Body Dumping Case. He hated that name, this was a person, this was Jiang Yang.

He hunted down every piece of information he could get, whether regarding Jiang Yang or the case that had ruined his life. Jing Ran’s own investigation didn’t bring much more results than the official one, but at least he had something – photos from Jiang Yang’s first days at the Procuratorate, his smile beautiful and his eyes shining. He learned of the wife and the son, of the divorce. Of Jiang Yang’s life after his release from prison – a sad, lonely life that somehow still hadn’t broken him.

Jing Ran kept one of the photos and put it in the frame. As a reminder. Of Jiang Yang, or his own guilt, he was not sure.

And then, the case was solved. A terminal disease. An honourable suicide. All because of the Hou Guiping’s case. All because Jiang Yang loved justice more than anything and anyone and because he was ready to lay down his life to find it for those victimized girls. For Huo Guiping.

He wasn’t alone in this – Zhou Wei, Zhang Chao, Cheng Mingzhang, they had all taken their part, Jing Ran knew; they have made sacrifices and yet they were still here, they could see the their triumph. Jiang Yang could not. Because he was dead by his own hand.

The media had released his final message.

Jing Ran drunk more alcohol than he had his entire life that night, rewatching Jiang Yang’s last moments and hating himself. He wasn’t even sure why. He hasn’t seen Jiang Yang in years, the man himself hadn’t contacted him on his own at all, he should be nothing more than a memory, just one of many people Jing Ran had met and forged a connection with.

It should be nothing more than that.

Except, in his darkest moments, as he watched Jiang Yang talking about the machine that he had asked for because he knew he would try to fight for his life, Jing Ran knew that he had been probably the only one who could have helped him escape this hell and instead had left him there.

Logically, he knew he couldn’t have known, couldn’t have done anything – Jiang Yang was who he was and this case would have consumed them both if Jing Ran got involved, and even if he had tried, Jiang Yang wouldn’t have accepted his help.

Jiang Yang couldn’t be bought.

Which also meant that Jiang Yang couldn’t have been saved.

Jing Ran dreams about saving him either way.