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a hundred ships passing (and none of them yours)

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Gazi has two phones, and currently he is answering neither of them. They’re both buried in the duvet, somewhere near his feet, he thinks, by the feel of the vibration. He can almost feel Heng-jie’s frustration by the stop-start of the ringtone as she hangs up and tries again, and hangs up, and tries again.

It won’t be long before she attends in person to drag him out of bed. It’s not like him, he knows, but nothing about the last six weeks has been normal, and he feels like he’s constantly hungry for a breath, a pause, a minute to himself to think.

He’s already twenty minutes late. He knows this because when he checked his phone seven minutes ago, he was already thirteen minutes late, and yet he can’t bring himself to drag his worn-out, tired body out of the bed. He’s tried, of course he’s tried, but today his feet are not his feet, his hands are not his hands, and all he wants to do is bury his face in the pillows and cry himself to sleep.

Things are not looking good. The phones have stopped ringing, which means Heng-jie is probably seconds away from breaking down his door. The only thing that might stop her is the fact that he always gives her the spare card to his room in case she needs to bring him something in an emergency. He can count on one hand the number of times she’s been willing to use it after catching him in a very compromising position three years ago, but still - she has the card.

To be fair, Dalong had put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

To be fair, Gazi had been drunk enough on love and finally getting to spend more than five minutes with his boyfriend in the same room with no one else around to believe that something as defenseless as a Do Not Disturb sign might work against Heng-jie, a woman who classically would not let anything smaller than a three-tonne truck stop her from going somewhere she wanted to go.

God, had it really been three years ago?

“I’m coming in,” Heng-jie announces from the door, and seconds later she’s standing by his bed, looking at the mess of blankets, Gazi in a sad lump in the middle.

“Oh,” she says. “That bad?”

God, he could cry.

“You know,” she says, conversationally, as if he isn’t a sad puddle of bones in the middle of this king-sized bed, as if he isn’t twenty-five minutes late to his next shoot, as if seeing him like this doesn’t terrify her. “I had to check that he was in Shanghai before I came up here. I didn’t want to have nightmares for the next five days.”

“Of course he’s in Shanghai,” Gazi says, voice muffled by the duvet.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen his bare ass,” Heng-jie continues. The mattress dips under her weight as she sits gingerly at the corner. “You probably haven’t seen it in a while either, huh?”

That gets him peeking out from under the duvet, eyebrows furrowed.

“I’m only joking,” she says. “Calm down. Nobody needs to see that. Except you, of course.”

“Shut up,” Gazi says, disappearing back into his nest of covers. It’s mercifully cold and dark in here, which helps his migraine a little, but does nothing for the sour, squeezing thing in his chest. Even his hands feel too empty, which is a strange feeling. He clutches the sheets for comfort, and it helps a little, but it’s not what he needs.

“Can I convince you to attend this shoot, or will we reschedule?” Heng-jie asks. She’s been with him long enough that she’s seen this happen twice. It’s as close to an emergency as they’ll ever have. He’s usually well-behaved.

“I’m so tired,” he says. “I tried to get out of bed, and I just-”

Miss him. Want to cry. Can’t move, his brain supplies.

“I’ll get the shoot re-organised,” Heng-jie says. “Have you phoned him?”

“No.”

“That bad?”

“I can’t find my phone,” Gazi says, and that’s partially true. He doesn’t have the energy to find it, to ring him only to hear it go to voicemail, to leave a text message that’s carefully crafted so that it doesn’t sound too much like he desperately misses him.

“Do you want me to do it?”

“Why do I feel like you’re my teacher, phoning my mother to pick me up from school?”

“What’s the difference,” Heng-jie says. She pats absently at the lump on the bed, her hand landing somewhere around his shoulder. “Please tell me that was your shoulder, not your ass.”

“Don’t phone him,” Gazi says instead. “He’ll be busy. A livestream, or something. There’s definitely something going on today, I just can’t remember what it is.”

She sighs. “What do you want to do?”

Honestly? Gazi wants to get on the next plane to Shanghai and lock Dalong up in his house, barricade the doors and have the buzzing headache fucked out of him. Preferably twice in a row, then they can pause for food.

“I’ll be fine tomorrow,” he says. “I just need some painkillers and a good sleep.”

“Mhm,” Heng-jie says, in the tone of voice that means she’s completely unconvinced. To her credit, she does know him well. 

Gazi’s not sure he can convince himself either. He hears her get up to bring him some warm water. By the time he sits himself up against the head of the bed, she’s digging through her purse for painkillers. She keeps her painkillers in a Hello Kitty pill holder. That’s ridiculous. Gazi snorts at the sight of it.

“What?” Heng-jie says. “Hello Kitty not good enough for you?”

“Hello Kitty is absolutely good enough for me,” he says obediently, holding his hand out so she can dispense the painkillers from Hello Kitty’s mouth onto his palm. “Thank you.”




Heng-jie, bless her soul, took one of his phones with her when she left him to stew in peace, so when Gazi finds the will to emerge from the blankets he only has one phone to contend with.

One phone, five messages from Dalong.

Bought you a present, Dalong’s sent. Don’t worry, it already has the Heng-jie seal of approval.

It’s a plane ticket to Shanghai, leaving this evening. Gazi scrolls down to look at the details, then closes it before he can see when he’s due back here. He doesn’t want to know. Time’s always running out these days. If he’s lucky, it’ll be sixteen hours. If it’s not, he’ll be due back first thing tomorrow.

It would probably hurt more to see him for an hour, two hours. Would they even make it out of the airport? Gazi’s not sure.

“I’m really okay, Dalong,” he says. Clears his throat before he sends it, in case Dalong can hear the sticky, sickly feeling in his tone.

Dalong’s call comes through and he accepts it before he can think twice.

“Well, then I’m not okay. Do it for me, huh?”

“What did Heng-jie tell you?”

“She - ah. She said you didn’t like her Hello Kitty pill dispenser.”

Gazi chokes on a laugh. “Fuck, it’s really ugly.”

“I’ll bet,” Dalong says, indulgent. “Come and see me, okay? I’ll make you dinner. What do you want to eat? Three dishes - a soup, some meat. Order anything you’d like.”

“You,” Gazi says, burying his face in his pillows again. “I’ll eat you for dinner.”

Dalong laughs, a warm, deep thing. “How would you like it? Steamed, boiled, roasted, grilled, fried, stir-fried, with garlic -”

“I want you to hold me down and fuck me until I can’t walk.”

A sharp inhale, and then Dalong’s voice is back in his ear. “Oh, my love. That bad, huh?”

Gazi swallows past the lump in his throat.

“I miss you,” Dalong says. “Come home and see me, okay? I’ll pick you up from the airport.”

Gazi huffs. “You don’t even drive.”

“Me and the taxi driver will pick you up from the airport. How’s that?”

“Fine,” Gazi says, stretching his arm out, squinting at the bright hotel room lights beyond his splayed fingers. “Tell the taxi driver to bring an umbrella, I think it’ll rain.”



 

True to his word, Dalong picks him up at the airport, complete with bucket hat, sunglasses and mask. No umbrella, though.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get recognised?” Gazi says. He hasn’t even brought a bag - he’ll have everything he needs at home, and he couldn’t bring himself to pack.

“Who would recognise me in this?” Dalong says, sliding his sunglasses down his nose a little to wink at Gazi. “Come on, your taxi driver’s waiting.”

It’s drizzling outside, so Dalong holds his hand over Gazi’s head as he makes his way into the backseat of the car, entirely useless and unnecessary.

“I told you to bring an umbrella,” Gazi says, when Dalong waves at the driver to move off. The partition goes up to give them some privacy.

“I know,” Dalong says, pointing to the umbrella by his feet. “I left it in the car.”

“Stupid,” Gazi says, and the rest of his sentence is swallowed by the dry press of Dalong’s lips on his own. Dalong holds his face with both hands, like he’s something precious. His heart beats like a distressed bird in his chest - he’s spent too long on the precipice of total exhaustion and losing it, and this kiss might just break him.

“I missed you,” Dalong murmurs against his mouth, not moving away. A hand comes up to brush his fringe back from his eyes, and in horror Gazi realises he’s starting to cry. He blinks back the treacherous hot prickle of tears, but Dalong’s quicker, his fingers coming up to brush the tears away with a gentle knuckle.

Gazi twists his face away, and Dalong lets him.

“We’ll be home soon,” Dalong says.

Gazi looks out of the window at the greying evening sky. Somewhere between them, Dalong’s hand finds his closed fist and covers it, one finger at a time.




The second Dalong closes the front door behind them, Gazi backs him up against it, his palms flat against the wood either side of Dalong’s face, kissing him with all the strength he can muster. His lips are chapped again - again, again, always, Gazi’s spent hundreds of dollars on lip balm that’s lying around the house, in the car that they barely use, in all the different suitcases dotted around their house -

Dalong’s lips are chapped again, but his mouth is soft and wet and hot, so Gazi loses himself in it, like a man dying in the desert, kneeling at the bank of his oasis. In actuality Dalong’s hands are coming up to loosen his hold against the door, his long fingers wrapping around Gazi’s wrists, holding onto him, directing his hands somewhere warmer, somewhere softer.

His fingers clench around the fabric of Dalong’s T-shirt, a little damp with rain at the back, and Dalong adjusts their stance so that Gazi can find his footing again, pressed chest to chest, mouth to mouth, bony shoulder to bony shoulder.

If he could tear Dalong into tiny pieces and eat him he would, fill all of the empty gaping holes in his soul with bits and pieces to take away with him, squirrelled away for the next cold night in Hangzhou, Changsha, Beijing, wherever the fuck in the country he is at any given time.

It’s too cannibalistic a thought to voice, so he doesn’t say it, just holds Dalong closer and hopes he understands. Dalong, being Dalong, does.

The door handle is digging into Dalong’s back, so Gazi lets him steer them to the sofa. Dalong breaks away to move his messy stack of scripts and scores onto the coffee table, so Gazi settles against the pillows and waits patiently for him to join him again.

There’s something comforting about the weight of Dalong on his body, pressing the breath right out of his chest. Dalong holds him with both his arms around him, coming up underneath his arms to curl around his back, and suddenly Gazi feels weightless, like he’s made of nothing but air and the shape of Dalong’s body around him.

Dalong plants kisses along his jaw, down his throat, across his neck along each freckle, and then up again, behind his ear, the side of his nose, and then squarely on the mouth, like a pouting child. Gazi closes his eyes, lets himself get lost in it, the soft touch, the quiet hum of the washing machine running in the kitchen behind them.

“Welcome home,” Dalong says, a hot puff of air by his ear, and Gazi pulls him impossibly closer, wrapping his legs around Dalong’s waist, squeezing just hard enough to hear Dalong exhale in surprise.

“Carry me to bed,” he says, and Dalong laughs, reaching for Gazi’s arms to arrange them around his neck.

“You have too much faith in me,” Dalong says, but he obliges anyway, pulling them into a sitting position, Gazi like a koala on a tree, holding on with far too much faith.

“This position is also good,” Dalong tries, pressing his cold nose into Gazi’s neck. Why is his nose always cold? His nose is always cold, his lips always chapped, his eyes always beautiful, his hands always too far away. Gazi nudges him away with his shoulder and tightens his legs against Dalong’s waist, egging him on.

“Alright, alright,” Dalong says, and makes a show of it, standing up with far more strength than either of them anticipate. Gazi tightens his legs again, reflexively, and Dalong stagger-steers them towards the bedroom, his arm coming up underneath Gazi’s ass to support him.

They land on the bed with no finesse, and Gazi has the wind knocked out of him, but he doesn’t mind, not when Dalong is next to him, warm and breathing a little heavy, messy hair frizzing in the Shanghai humidity.

“Our Long-ge is stronger than he looks,” Gazi says, tracing a finger down Dalong’s temple, streaking the thin film of sweat.

“You’re too skinny,” Dalong says, and he looks a little upset about it. It won’t do, Gazi thinks. He knows Dalong’s right, he knows he’s lost a little too much weight too quickly, he knows the sticky-sick feeling he has in his chest is his body trying to tell him he needs to slow down, he’s running out of breath.

He’s running out of time.

He wriggles out of Dalong’s grasp, straddles him, and tries to think about which part of his body he wants to get his hands on first. The lights are off in the bedroom - Dalong couldn’t put them on while he was trying not to drop him on their way in - but there’s enough light from the hallway to illuminate Dalong’s face, the slant of his nose, his cheekbones, the little grey-green shadow along his upper lip.

He’s a man, Gazi thinks, a little mindlessly. He’s a man, and I want to kiss him, and I want to feel him touch me -

To think he used to be afraid of this, he thinks, as Dalong pulls him down by the wrists, delicate and forceful all at once. To think he used to lie awake listening to his heart beating in his throat, imagining Dalong doing exactly this, daring his body to react. See, he’d think, even as his heart quickened, even as he bit the inside of his cheek so hard it bled, even as he squeezed his eyes so tightly shut he saw red and green sparks - see, I don’t like boys that way I don’t like boys that way I don’t-

“What are you thinking so hard about?” Dalong asks, brushing his fringe out of his eyes for him. His hair is getting too long, but it works for the show he’s shooting, so he has to make do with it until they wrap.

“I like you,” Gazi says, nonsensically, and Dalong laughs.

“Lucky me,” Dalong says. “When did that start?”

“A very long time ago.”

“What a coincidence, me too.”

Dalong flips them over, clambering over him so he can start to undress him. Piece by piece, delicately undoing the complicated gift-wrapping. One sock, then the other. The trousers, the shirt. Gazi wiggles his naked toes in Dalong’s lap, feeling a little cold.

“I’m hungry,” he says, because he is.

Dalong laughs, flicking him gently on the forehead.  “Give me a kiss, and I’ll finish cooking dinner.”




Gazi gives him a kiss, or ten, or twenty, but he doesn’t let him go to finish cooking dinner. Dinner can wait, Gazi hasn’t eaten all day and he isn’t about to start now, not when Dalong’s running his fingers down his chest, catching his nails on a pebbled nipple to hear him gasp.

Days like this, Gazi doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to be asked questions, doesn’t want to think about the next thing, and the next, and the next. Thankfully Dalong does it for him, pokes him and prods him, pulls him into the right position, tells him what to do.

Bend your knee, lift your hips, kiss me. Hold on. Let go. Relax. Breathe.

Gazi follows his instructions, eyes closed. Dalong holds him from behind, chest pressed to his back. One arm heavy across his chest, teasing at his nipples, the other buried in his lap, caressing his cock.

“You’re being so good for me,” Dalong breathes into his ear, wet and heavy. “This body is mine, this mouth is mine, this neck, this chest, this cock is mine.”

Yours, Gazi thinks, hazy with the touch, the faint smell of Dalong’s cologne in the sheets, the tickle of his chest hair against his back.

He presses his nose to the pillow, breathes in the fading smell of Dalong’s cologne. Dalong must have left the house for an event this morning, if he put cologne on. Gazi thinks about watching Dalong dress in the morning, in some other universe where he gets to watch, time an abyss, watching him do up the buttons on his sleeves, tightening his watch, tightening his tie, watching him as he lies there, cool sheets hiding the remnants of their lovemaking.

Dalong jerks him off, steady, achingly slow, hand slick with saliva and pre-come. Gazi doesn’t bother asking him to speed up, it won’t matter. Dalong’s calling the shots, so Dalong decides when he slides his lubed fingers into him, when he replaces them with his cock, when Gazi gets to come.

They’re interrupted by the rumble of Gazi’s belly, reminding him he hasn’t eaten today. Dalong pauses, and Gazi can feel the furrow of his brow against his shoulder, the disapproving nip of Dalong’s teeth as Gazi presses back against his fingers.

“Don’t stop now,” Gazi whispers, hoping Dalong will indulge him, and Dalong picks the pace up, sliding his fingers out and his cock in their place, fucking him more relentlessly now, holding onto his hips so tightly there’ll be bruises in the morning.

“Don’t think you’ve gotten away with this,” Dalong says, sinking his teeth into Gazi’s shoulder, even as he milks another strangled gasp from his throat with his brutal pace. “That’s two bowls of rice for you.”

“One and a half,” Gazi says, to be petty, and Dalong grits his teeth, pressing him down against the mattress, slamming into him with so much force that the bed shakes.

It’s brutal, it’s glorious, it’s everything Gazi needs. A punishment for talking back, a punishment for not eating, for losing weight, for not sleeping, for not seeing him in six weeks - Dalong spanks him then, a fire-hot handprint on his ass-cheek, the skin smarting in the cool air.

“Count,” Dalong says, and Gazi tastes the fabric between his teeth with the force of it.




Start with the soup, Dalong says, so he does. The comforting clink of porcelain against porcelain. There’s vegetables in the soup that Gazi doesn’t know the name of, a mess of stringy wilted leaves that are probably good for his health.

Gazi is dressed in Dalong’s most comfortable clothing - importantly, it’s Dalong’s clothing, clothing he bought with his own money, which means it’s three sizes too big and about ten years out of fashion, but that’s what makes it a boyfriend hoodie, a boyfriend’s ugly, pilled sweatpants, a boyfriend’s saggy old socks.

They’re probably the ugliest clothes Gazi’s worn in six weeks, but he’ll die before he takes them off. They’ll have to bury him in them, he’ll write that into his will. Dalong will take the house, of course, both houses, the car they never get the chance to use, the books in the study that came in a set of forty-two from Taobao, the piano in the living room, the recording equipment, all of his clothes -

“What are you thinking about?”

“Make sure they bury me in these clothes.”

“These clothes?” Dalong eyes the hoodie critically. “There’s definitely a hole in the bum of those trousers.”

Gazi stretches his legs out. Dalong’s right, there’s a hole in the crotch.

“They’ll have to bury me with you to guard your virtue,” Dalong says, sticking his finger in the hole to completely dismiss his own point.

“At least we’ll be together,” Gazi says, and he’s trying to make it sound like a joke, he really, truly is, but the crack of Dalong’s smile is breaking his heart.

“Six more days,” Dalong says, because he’s done the hard work and looked at Gazi’s schedule for him, so he can keep count of the days they’re apart. “Six more days, not even a week, and then I’ll see you again.”

“I’m taking these trousers with me,” Gazi says, petulant.

“Not sure Heng-jie’s eyes would survive the view,” Dalong says.

“Then you’ll have to come with me to guard my virtue.”

“I’ll fight them off with my chopsticks,” Dalong promises, even though it’s all bullshit. He won’t come with him, he can’t. It’s a pointless conversation.

“I’ll take the hoodie too,” he says. “But you can have the socks.”

“We can split the socks,” Dalong says. “One for you, one for me.”

“Hmm.”

“It’s a good idea, eh? Your Long-ge,” Dalong taps the side of his forehead, grinning. “Your Long-ge’s clever.”

Stupid. I love you. I miss you. I want to stay here forever.

“Get your finger out of my trousers,” Gazi says, instead.