We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals
Their family reunion is abruptly set into motion by Ba’s death.
The last one was for a wedding—Shi Jinghui’s, actually—which ended sourly in divorce, so their track record for good moods and family bonding is clearly superb.
Shi Jinghui scrunches his nose in mild disgust as a film of dust implodes into the air of his father’s office. He waves his hand quietly in front of his face to avoid the debris.
They probably weren’t poisonous spores. Probably. Considering his father, it was a very real possibility.
/He always did say we’d be dead if we stepped in here alone/, Shi Jinghui thinks sardonically to himself. He sighs, tucking his face further into his cardigan. /Maybe some things never change./
“Old man really must have kicked the bucket if you’re in here,” a unsubtly delighted voice says from behind him. Shi Jinghui doesn’t have to turn to see the newcomer, closing his eyes instead and letting out a quiet huff of amusement.
Zhang Yuting lounges into the room, barely sidestepping a precious artifact from Egypt that had been so carefully maintained on their father’s private bookshelf. Shi Jinghui watches him silently from his perch on the desk as his adoptive brother languidly tosses various items onto the teakwood floor in a silent inspection.
“I reassure you, he’s rolling over in his grave,” Shi Jinghui answers. “If that’s your intention.”
“He’s too busy playing poker with Stalin to care,” Zhang Yuting says. He pauses, then fully turns to Shi Jinghui with an eyebrow raised. “Was the mothering personality triggered by coming back here, or are you still like this all the time?”
“Ha-ha.” Shi Jinghui deadpans. He opens his arms to the other man, who lets out an amused breath and obliges to step in and receive a brief hug. “Still blunt and charming as ever, aren’t you.”
“Things from the Academy hardly change,” Zhang Yuting says, stepping back to lean against the windowsill. He lets out a deep sigh, scanning the room with narrowed eyes. Shi Jinghui recognizes the bitter nostalgia in his gaze—the resigned disdain, the numb disbelief. He wonders if the others will think to head to the same forbidden room.
Or if they’ll even decide to come at all.
After several moment of heavy silence, deafening with the buzz of both of their minds flitting through memories a decade ago, a creak sounds from the doorway. Shi Jinghui turns to look back—then jolts to himself at the sight of the figure standing with his hands in his pockets.
“Room for another in this party?” Cheng Bowen drawls icily. Shi Jinghui watches as Zhang Yuting instantly tenses from his spot, his posture tightening from his loose draping over the windowsill into something more reminiscent of a fighter preparing for a next round.
He can’t say he blames him.
When neither of them answer, their brother raises an eyebrow.
“No,” Zhang Yuting says at the same time Shi Jinghui answers, “Three isn’t too much of a crowd, is it?”
Cheng Bowen’s eyes gleam in thinly veiled amusement at this as Zhang Yuting turns to Shi Jinghui with a displeased glare. Shi Jinghui elects to ignore him, instead turning away to pick at his nails in forced nonchalance.
Zhang Yuting lets out a resigned breath, then turns back with a steely look to Cheng Bowen, who tilts his head.
“Then I’ll just let you two … catch up,” he says tightly, rising from his spot. He gently touches a hand to Shi Jinghui’s side in parting before he levels Cheng Bowen with another irritated glance, taking his leave and leaving behind an awkward air.
Shi Jinghui doesn’t know if he imagines the softening in Cheng Bowen’s expression. If it’s just selective perception. After all these years—he’d like to think—well. Nobody in their family’s ever been good at reading each other. Much less Cheng Bowen.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Shi Jinghui offers into the silence.
“Neither did I,” the other man answers. No elaboration.
Shi Jinghui hums at that. He doesn’t know what else to say, despite the incredulity of the occasion—always the mediator, and never his own voice when it came to his family. Even though his siblings would disapprove of this conversation itself.
“Where’s Xixi and Gu Kang?” Cheng Bowen asks. His face, his tone—reveal nothing about his feelings on the topic, even as Shi Jinghui’s hands ball into fists on the desk.
“ … Gu Kang,” Shi Jinghui answers, letting out a weary breath as he crosses his arms, “filed for divorce eight months ago. And Xixi, I—he got custody. So.”
Cheng Bowen mouth curves downwards at this.
“But anyways,” Shi Jinghui says stiffly, hopping gently off the edge of the desk. “That’s neither here nor there. I hope you’ve been—well. With your … job. I suppose.”
In another room, the family’s mansion’s housekeeper—their android of many years—dusts the wall next to a dimly lit oil painting in the likeness of a young girl poised on a velvet chair, the right side of her mouth quirked upwards.
The girl in the painting above the fireplace, with a shock of bone-white hair against a sanguine background, does not answer to Yan Siyuan’s hums as she dusts.
dear MM, again!
I don't quite go on here anymore, but as an update to my very long, dramatic poem I most recently posted before this, this is for summer romance LOL: MM and I are now dating!
That's all!! I doubt anybody will read this or care but I think it's kinda funny how pessimistic the poem was and then .... yeah!
Do you remember that day in New York where we met
again at the Met Museum, my sunglasses swallowing up
my face the way the sun did yours? You slid up on my Snapchat
story first. I remember. You're in New York? Me too! We just
landed. oh haha. it's been a while. Yeah it has. we're going
to the Met tomorrow. would you wanna meet up?
And you hugged me that afternoon, the first time you'd
seen me in years. Did it start then? Did you like me then?
Did you like me ever, the way everyone makes fun of me for
not noticing, for being so oblivious to how "obvious" you were,
the way you walked me three blocks in the Big Apple looking
for an ice cream truck, only to found out one was right in front
of us, the way I was too shy to ask the vendor for a double cone
so you bought it for me, the way I wanted us to share it that day,
but instead I ate two vanilla scoops. Not like it matters to me,
because we talked so much after that. Do you remember going
to the lake together after that, the way you held my shirt before I
ran into that man at Buccee's, the way you put on sunscreen after
taking your shirt off and I laughed at how you were taller than me
now. You said I looked pretty. You said starry-eyed emojis spammed
in your Instagram comment section for you. Do you remember so
many years ago, when we were in eighth grade, and you were fuller-
faced and shorter than me. The way you said thank you for talking to
me so suddenly after we made stupid pee jokes. Thank you for talking
to me. You're the only one who stayed in touch. I said oh haha talk
to me whenever. Do you remember seventh grade when you were gone
for a week for your brother's wedding in Hawaii and I took notes for
you and you brought me back that bioluminescent turtle. When you
said sorry, haha. And I said, about what? And you said, all our classmates
think we should date. The next year I told you I liked some other guy
and he liked me too. And you said, did you tell him yet? after ghosting
me for a day. I didn't know then. I only realized a few weeks ago.
Do you remember my fifteenth birthday party where you held your hand
to mine and said my hands were so small, and my boyfriend tilted his head
at us and I didn't know then, did you? I know now. That's why I texted you
even though we drifted apart over quarantine and said, hey M, how are you?
And eventually you asked if L and I were still together and I thought finally,
and I said no, we broke up last year. And you asked, are you talking to anyone?
And I thought finally, and I said no. And you hearted the message and you
said you weren't either. Do you know anymore? I knew because I read over
what you wrote to me on my sixteenth birthday. I knew that I missed you and
that God, I like you, man. I've liked you for four years without knowing it. And
I don't know if you feel the same anymore or if you ever did, but do you remember?
Could you remember if you were happy to see me, and could you give me a chance
to give us a chance? In seventh grade, the first year I met you, I told you I'm just
the mean, smartypants try hard. And you said no, you're approachable, you're
easygoing, you're funny when you talk. You said I proved you wrong. I think you
don't like me anymore. Can you prove me wrong again. Do you remember.
than serve in Heaven
“I am surprised that an important young man such as yourself would be assigned to such menial tasks,” the restaurant owner says. There is a brief pause, and then he chuckles, nervous, as if unsure of if what he’s said is correct or not. He returns to shifting nervously in his spot.
Tu Jiyu hums pleasantly in response.
“Do not sell yourself short,” the young man answers, looking boredly over the room’s tacky decorations. He nudges a stone xiezhi statue with his foot, tilting his head as it topples to the floor. Tu Jiyu looks back at the older man with a languid smile. "Your catering service is important for the banquet, and my sect naturally sought the finest establishment. I came by to check on your progress. There is no room for inadequacy, I’m sure you know, xiansheng."
“Of course—of course not," the older man stammers, eyes downcast in hesitance. He is scared of Tu Jiyu. He has good instincts. Most people are, naturally, which has never failed to please him. It is advantageous to be the predator rather than the prey, as much as it is thrilling.
"However," Tu Jiyu continues, idly tapping the wood of the chair he stands behind, "there was one thing I requested specially. Yes?"
He gestures towards the table in front of him invitingly.
The restaurant owner swallows thickly. Reluctant, the man makes his way to the other chair across from him. Sits with a delicacy that shows he knows what he is. A hare with its neck stretched between the jaws of a wolf.
Tu Jiyu takes a seat before him. He rests his elbow on the table. "The sedative I asked to be delivered to this table. I trust that you've planned for it well. You would not disappoint me."
The man fidgets. Tu Jiyu tilts his head. Waiting.
"No," the man finally answers, stumbling over the syllables. "No, no, it’s—it’s—"
Tu Jiyu sits back languidly. "It’s?"
"It’s—illegal, Tu-gongzi, immoral and unlawful, I’m sorry, I cannot—do what you’ve asked of me, I—"
Tu Jiyu drives the knife from his sleeve's pocket through the man’s palm. The blade pierces all the way through the flesh, pinning his hand to the table.
"We agreed on it prior," Tu Jiyu says, cutting through the sound of his screams. "Do you not remember? Or were you just intending on making a fool of me?"
"Please," the man sobs. "I—I have a, a daughter—"
Tu Jiyu sighs. Humans were so pathetic. He digs the knife further in, the sadistic itch in his chest only deepened by the man’s screams and thrashing.
"You disappoint me," he snarls, suddenly incredibly irritated. "Incompetent, useless wretch. It is a non-lethal substance, I ask so little of you, and even still you are worthless. Would you agree? Answer."
The man whimpers, nodding frantically.
"And yet you still intended on following through with this heroic, moral plan of yours," Tu Jiyu huffs out a laugh, mirthful and incensed. He twists the knife further, enjoying the jolt and squeak that comes after. "No, shut up and listen. Good. You remind me of someone, you know.
"Imagine a man like a god. Lightning lapping at his heels, night brightening where he goes. Always doing what his oh-so righteous self believes is best for others. But I’ll tell you a secret, xiansheng. He’s a dirty, wicked liar. And he’s a deceitful god."
Tu Jiyu pulls the knife out. The man lets out a small cry.
"Perhaps I’ll let you live. I have some fond memories of that man. Resemblance and sentiment are not lost on me."
The man bursts into tears. He starts begging for his life or whatever in a litany of pathetic please please thank you never again forgive this lowly one.
Tu Jiyu meets it with disgust. The god he remembers would never abandon his inhuman image to beg. Not even after he had abandoned Tu Jiyu as a young boy did he shed a tear. Show any trace of remorse or guilt.
Well, Tu Jiyu thinks. What do you do when a god scorns you? That was simple.
You become the devil.
"On second thought," Tu Jiyu says, prowling forward, blood singing with the promise of violence. "I’m in a rather poor mood today."
you ain’t even half, man
You’ve known him for ... about a decade by now?
And you don’t know where he lives?
Sun Min I am frankly unimpressed with your stalking skills
LOL okay listen jie
he’s a lot more chill with letting me know things now that i’ma TA
and not a high school kid in some mentorship program
so ye of so little faith. i will soon return with song-laoshi info >:))
You called him “dummy thicc” during your senior year
I could probably find the convo again
and you know what. i stand by it
but it’s so weird if you talk about him like that
i just got chills
Chill out lol I’m not making googoo eyes at your professor
I’ll leave that to u didi <3
I HATE YOU
you are the wrsot most anoying
ur breath stinks and u have acne and idk how u convinced someone 2 date u
Ma wants to know if he’s any different than he was now that he’s finished his PhD program
no he’s exactly the same ngl
very responsible adult
i feel like there’s a word for it
He does not seem like a dilf
okay ofc he doesn’t have kids
that i know of
but the energy is very parentlike
he’s an older dude that gives me good life advice
So any older male that tells you good life habits is a father figure to you?
Is Mr Clean a dilf to you Sun Min?
He gives me more milf vibes
Like he’d play mahjong with ayi
don’t CALL MY TEACHER A MILF
okay bye gotta text this new kid
Go eat something if you haven’t already
yea yea you too
i’m kinda obligated as ur shadow to ask how ur doing
Yeah I’m doing good thanks
lol ok good
ur very good looking btw
not in a weird way
just look out for the girls that work the register at the campus cafe
they’ll def try to snatch you
okay it’s been a while since you responded so i assume ur physically error.exe again
Thanks for the advice
yeahh np don’t mention it
do you know song-laoshi from anywhere?
Why do you ask
see u tomorrow for ur very own SUN XINYI approved tour?
moonlight making crosses
“I am a good man.
The amount of fear
I am ok with
is insane. ”
--Molly Brodak (Untitled) by Molly Brodak.
His teaching assistant begins the day by arriving an hour early, hands full of paper-burgeoned binders with cracked plastic on their spines, and greeting him with, “Laoshi, my psychology class ended early today, but I didn’t really want it to, you know?”
Song Liwei does not turn from where he’s seated at his desk. He circles another error in muted, inky red on the assignment he’s grading. Judging by the handwriting, it’s the student who sits near the window—Chang Yan’s—exam. Marking off a point for failing to recognize ideal gas laws and the equations, he is more sure of this; confirming his thoughts as he checks the name scrawled at the top of the paper, he writes the final score. Chang Yan had struggled with the topic during the lecture. He makes a mental note to make a review powerpoint for him before the final exam.
“Please keep your outside classes’ matters within their own lecture rooms,” Song Liwei says.
Sun Xinyi, as usual, heeds him no mind, and continues to talk. He sets his backpack down with a clunk. “It was about stages of morality. Lots of development throughout age and stuff. Mega complex! Some of the examples were pretty sick.”
Xinyi usually takes this time to eat. Song Liwei turns to his TA to ask if he needs change to buy himself something, but Xinyi waves him off, predicting this question, and holds up a bag of dried plums in answer.
“It was kinda flawed and inaccurate, though? I mean, the stages made sense, but some holes were pretty easily poked into them. Preconventional morality seemed too simple for what’s displayed by like, easily observable toddlers. Or Clifford the red dog, even.”
“Do not eat in my class,” Song Liwei says. “There are students with allergies.”
“Oh, shoot, right. Putting these bad boys away.” Song Liwei turns back to his papers in response. “Are you grading, laoshi? Seems boring. Well, turns out the info was inaccurate because the guy researching only sampled males, ha.”
“Lawrence Kohlberg,” Song Liwei answers. “I am familar.”
“Oh, nice! Yeah, not cool of that guy. Or maybe girls just didn’t like being tested back then?” Xinyi pauses, laying himself back on a table lazily with a sigh. He stretches out his limbs like a particularly overexcited dog anxious to go on a run. “What do you think makes a good person, laoshi?”
Song Liwei pauses, pen stilling in his hand above the next paper.
“I think a lot of good people don’t know that they are,” Sun Xinyi continues, yawning. “They get so caught up about it, probably. That’s what I think, anyways.”
Song Liwei gently plucks a splinter of wood out of one of the student desks. They had to be refurbished, he thought. Splinters weren’t serious hazards, but they were reason for discomfort enough.
“I disagree,” Song Liwei responds. “Humans tend to know themselves the best. The ... good ... know themselves for what they are. I believe the same for the contrary.”
Xinyi hums thoughtfully. Then, laughing nonchalantly, he teases, “If it’s anything, I think you’re pretty good, laoshi.”
“It is kind of you to think so,” Song Liwei says.
“I love many people
who don’t love me.
I don’t actually know
if that is true.”
After class ends, he holds office hours late into the evening, as long as he is allowed until the lecture halls close for the night. Final exams are approaching. There is no need to leave early when resources need to be as accessible as possible in such a time.
The telltale drone of the aircon powering down, as well as the fluoroescent lights in the hallway flickering off signal to him with a peek out of his office that campus doors are going to be locked soon, though. Gathering his laptop, he prepares to head out for the night.
Song Liwei pauses once he spots a book that’s fallen off its shelf in another classroom. He steps inside to pick it up.
“—Professor Song did a good job at explaining it during review, I thought?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, still gonna totally bomb these exams, anyways.”
“Ha! Felt that, girl. One-hundred-percent. Ugh, I am so gonna get wasted once these are over.”
Crouched down to pick up the book, he pauses again at the two familiar voices. They were two of his more quiet students. If they were in the hallways this late, perhaps they’d just missed his office hours? Song Liwei turns around, hand on the doorknob, halfway turning it and thinking to ask them if they needed anything.
“I mean, he’s alright, I guess. But Professor Song’s kinda ... you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s like. Nice and all, right?”
Song Liwei’s hand stills.
“Well ... ”
“Okay, nice is a bit of a hyperbole. No, he’s polite. He says good morning and all that. But it’s all so ... robotic? Emotionless? False? I don’t know.”
The other student laughs, almost startled. “Oh my God.”
“No, seriously, you know I’m right! Like, yeah he’s a great teacher and all, but he kinda gives me, like, sociopath vibes. Like he doesn’t feel anything beyond reciting chemistry equations. Isn’t that a thing?”
They both laugh in earnest, now. “Jesus Christ. I totally see it, holy—okay, I feel so bad for saying this, but he does seem like the type to live alone in some creepy little hideout.”
“I mean, yeah? No way he’s dating anyone. I doubt there’d be a person alive who would willingly want to be around him all the time. He’s always the one putting the distance out, anyways, you feel me?”
Song Liwei lets go of the doorknob. Quietly, the footsteps in the hallway fade away as they get further out. He crouches back down to the fallen book, and carefully places it back onto its shelf.
When the footsteps are gone, he makes his way out, a bit late for his train’s departure time.
Song Liwei checks his emails. There is one unread one from Rui Nuanhai about the next faculty event. At first, she had insisted on them exchanging numbers for quick messages about work related matters, but he’d declined. She’d come to agree with the sentiment eventually: his career at university as a professor was marred with rumors that Song Liwei had only secured his position at his age by having inappropriate relations with its head of school.
Unbidden, he looks over the dozens of unsent emails in his drafts.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am not sure if this is how to best correspond with you, but it is a possibility that this email I found on LinkedIn is yours, and I ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am aware that I am the last person you would wish to hear from but ...
Dear Liu Junjie, do you need anything, where you are? Wherever you are? I could help, though I know you would not want it from me, but anything you need, I would ...
Dear Liu Junjie, we need not converse. If you are safe, please let me know.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am willing to sacrifice anything of my possessions if it meant your wellbeing. It is only my job as ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am sorry. I am ...
At the volunteer club he sponsors, Song Liwei writes an advertisement for new members on a flimsy, styrofoam board. It smells rancid.
The head student of the club calls out to him. “So what’d you do this weekend, laoshi?”
“I appreciate the concern, but it would be unprofessional to discuss outside matters with a student. However, I hope yours was spent appropriately restful.”
Song Liwei hears a muffled “I told you so, dude,” and out of the corner of his eye, spots one of them handing a five dollar bill to the other, as if received in a bet. An equivalent exchange.
In his nightmares, he is fifteen again.
She traces her fingers, adorned in a pristine, painted red manicure, over the skin of his chin again. Then at his forearms. The smell of night-blooming pollia is overpowering in the shrouded room, threatening to choke him as it creeps into his nostrils, down his throat, the phantom blooms of a mocking blossom thinking it so better as to snuff him out in its embrace—mercy kill. Mercy kill, they call it.
“I’m the only one who will ever want you, hm?” He is fifteen, still. “No one else. Not after they know.”
He does not wake up violently. Instead, he slowly blinks himself out of the scene imposed on him by sleep, and stares at his blank, lifeless ceiling for several minutes while his heartbeat threatens to shatter him into pieces by mere force alone.
Song Liwei flips on the light switch to his bathroom, and hurls into the toilet.
The tiles beneath his knees are cold and unforgiving. He stays there for the night.
Xinyi greets him cheerily, this time with sticky food crumbs clinging to his chin already. “Did you have a good sleep, laoshi? I had the most awesome dream, so I woke up super pumped.”
“Yes,” Song Liwei says, already having grown softened enough with Xinyi to at least speak of such. “If you wish, you may tell me about it.”
“I can’t really remember, actually!” Xinyi laughs, hopping over the table. “Just that it was good. Prof, let me tell you about this kid I met, he seems like a foreign exchange student, honestly, but his Chinese is perfect—so it’s more like he just seems like he’s been away for a while ... ”
“This is love.
It is a mass of ice
melting, I can’t hold
it and I have nowhere
to put it down.”
i picture it, soft, and i ache
The last dregs of sunset spill out through the drawn curtains, bathing the bedroom in the soft, dulcet gold of the lowering sun. The room is swathed in mellow light. As if recognizing how the evening’s beginning to settle, the aircon’s quieted to a dull hum.
Sha Yexing pushes her face petulantly into the bed’s sheets. It’s hot. Which, really, of course, would be better if she simply kicked the blankets off, but she’s tired. She is! And it’s not like it’s just laziness—an entire day of tennis matches would easily have incapacited anyone just the same. Seriously. Seriously!
Lu Jing hums obligingly in response, and she realizes she’s been mumbling these thoughts out loud. The bed sinks next to her. She cracks open an eye to watch her boyfriend settle himself, laying on his side, head pillowed on his arm, facing her.
“Hurts,” Sha Yexing complains, playing it up a little with a whine for her poor, piteous state. “Sore.”
Lu Jing gently brushes a damp strand of hair out of her face. “Did you stretch?”
Ah. Well. No, she technically didn’t. But Sha Yexing was beyond that! The aircon suddenly starts back up again. Some distant ambulance siren far outside blares, the sound waning and dulling as it drives away. Lu Jing lets out a small, amused breath at her lack of a response.
“Gege thinks so little of me,” she answers instead, fluttering her lashes as she uses the very small amount of energy she has to wriggle closer to him.
He smiles at her softly, eyebrow slightly raised. “I think you’re avoiding the question.”
“Xing-er would never,” Sha Yexing breathes out, going for a falsely accosted look. She thumps her head against his chest once she’s close enough. Breathes in the scent of pastries from his patterned sleep clothes. “Xing-er’s such a good girl.”
Lu Jing huffs out a quiet laugh again. “Does it still hurt?”
His hands gently find their way to her waist, then to her lower back. Sha Yexing sighs in contentment, wrapping an arm around him and finally nuzzling his chest in earnest. He pushes the fabric of her night shirt up, and she pulls back to look up at him mischievously. Lu Jing clicks his tongue, shaking his head at her, fond.
He gently kneads the tense knots there, calloused fingertips against her damp skin working at the tight muscles beneath. She gives a muffled groan as the aches begin to slowly bleed away.
“It really does hurt,” Sha Yexing whispers at some point, voice slurred with drowsiness. "’M not lying.”
“I know you’re not,” Lu Jing answers, soft. Indulgent. Always so indulgent. Some awful part of her subconscious wants to take his indulgence and see how much of the twisted greed inside her it could take. The more present part of her mind hushes this, and the thoughts are easily dispelled by sleepiness.
Even more gently, as if sensing her drooping eyelids, Lu Jing gently slides his hand to the back of her knee, then pulls it softly so her leg is hitched across his hip. The movement has Sha Yexing blinking awake, and she feels a wicked smile curl at the corner of her lips as he works at the sore muscles of her leg.
“Gege’s awfully bold today,” she croons, shifting her head from beneath his chin.
“Yexing,” Lu Jing says, blinking, sensing her mischief.
She presses a kiss to his clavicle, grinning against his skin when he jolts ever so slightly. “You took photos of my matches? Did gege like the color of the skirt I picked out?”
He’s quiet, as if considering and recalling. “It went nicely with your sun visor,” Lu Jing answers thoughtfully.
“So gege paid attention to it.” She pauses, thinking to poke her tongue out suddenly to feel him flinch again, but decides against it. “Xing-er can wear a different one that he likes more, next time.”
Lu Jing says, “You always look pretty in any outfit.”
Sha Yexing stills. Her devilish smile fades, mind halting with the genuine statement. She’s not sure how to respond when she stops the teasing, stops the play-fishing for compliments.
“Thank you,” she whispers, sounding confused. Then, firmer, “thank you.”
Lu Jing hums.
She holds him tighter, suddenly. The awful voice in her head starts up again, a choir of terrible chanting, stay, stay, stay, perfect, you’re beautiful, you’re too good, be mine, mine, mine.
Ignoring them, she says, “Lu Jing is...nice in...everything, too.” Sha Yexing cringes at how the words fail to come out right. How to tell someone that they’re too brilliant to describe? “And...thank you, gege.”
The sunset blankets them, warm. In the quiet song of their intertwined heartbeats, the stars begin to creep into the sky.
a poem in all the wrong ways - 1st draft
after leila chatti
No birds. No stars. No one remembering how they’re
dead but how brilliant they are. No one saying that
the sun’s just another star, no shaping it in the face of
a lover long lost. No more other realities. No more other lives.
The truth is that we get this one and then we blow it
before we ever had the chance. Again, no birds. No more
metaphors about how they’re flying and how they’re free.
I can’t stand being so full of envy anymore. No more you.
Who in God’s name is the you, ever, anyways? This poem
isn’t for you. I want it to be for me. I want to be selfish in
a piece for once. I’m so tired nowadays. There are no
bird wings or Greek muses that could change that. I’m scared,
and it is not poetic. There is no rebirth that makes this better.
It doesn’t matter that we see the same moon at night, or
the fact that you can pretend I’m the lover stuck in it. I’m just
angry all the time that it saw you first. Would you still love me
if you didn’t have to. If I didn’t say that you’re the one in some
flash fiction piece where you save me. Would you still love me if
you knew how hopeless I was. I said this poem wasn’t for you, but
maybe I’m just angry all the time that you can only appear in stanzas,
anyways. I will make no euphemisms. I am hurt and alone.
look at how my tears ricochet
“And you’re the hero flying around, saving face.”
The room is dark. It always is. Ren Ronghu shifts, making to light a candle, but Xiu Lihua makes a noise of protest, burrowing further into his chest, so he stops.
You weren’t the one that did it this time, Ren Ronghu thinks, bitter. So why? Why’s it always you playing the hero?
So they both sit there, backs pressed to the wall of the energy suppression chamber, Ren Ronghu’s arms wrapped around her sniffling form.
He will kill her one day.
He owes her no comfort. He owes her nothing. He has her trust, he has her compliance, he needs not get any closer, so--
Traitorously, he presses a consoling kiss to the side of her temple.
“Good now?” Ren Ronghu whispers, quiet, in case other ears are listening in. I owe you nothing, I owe you nothing, you owe me everything, I--
“It’s alright now,” Xiu Lihua murmurs back, voice so small. It’s something like their code for when things really are alright. Like a goodbye with one last touch of the hand. “You can go. Goodnight, ge.”
“And I can go anywhere I want, / Anywhere I want, just not home.
And you can aim for my heart, go for blood: /
But you would still miss me in your bones.”
“You’ve been keeping tabs on her, yes?”
“Mm. When you devised the plan to turn her against Ren Liufang, I approved of it--using Ren Liufang’s resentment was instrumental in ensuring her loyalty to our sect and against that awful child. Ren Liufang’s resentment was useful. I wonder, though, Ronghu: who is your resentment aimed towards?”
“I’m not sure what shizun is trying to imply. But all this one has ever shown was deference to shizun and the elders.”
“In exchange for?”
“Good. Make sure you remember that, boy.”
“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, /
’Cause when I’d fight, you used to tell me I was brave.”
“All those years,” Xiu Lihua pants, fingers digging into the dirt at the edge of the cliff. “Did they ever mean anything to you?”
Ren Ronghu says nothing, stepping forward wordlessly with his sword. He thinks only of his parents, only of retribution, only of duty to--
“Xiong,” she sobs, curling in on herself as he stops before her. “Please don’t do this. They’re using you--”
“I was never their pawn,” he answers, coldly. “They were mine. As were you.”
Xiu Lihua breathes heavily, making a broken sound.
Then, “Did I ever any mean anything to you?”
Ren Ronghu looks at her.
“What a stupid question to ask,” he says, “coming from someone as unlovable as you.”
He lifts his foot, and shoves her off the end of the cliff.
“And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake? / Cursing my name, wishing I stayed.
And I still talk to you (when I’m screaming at the sky):
And when you can’t sleep at night (you hear my stolen lullabies)
You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same.”
“I’m worried about you,” Wang Jianxue says, holding him by the shoulders.
“You need not be,” Ren Ronghu answers, tired. He is so tired.
He has not left this room since he--since. Ren Liufang has been banned from it, for fear from the elders of what she may do if she visits.
He stares out the window. He is done. He has had his revenge.
And it all feels so empty.
Sitting down on his bed, he looks at the yì board on the floor.
“One day, xiong, I’m gonna beat you at this game, I swear.”
“I killed her,” Ren Ronghu says, brokenly. He holds his head in his hands, as if to shut out the noise, “I killed her, Jianxue.”
“It’s alright,” Wang Jianxue answers, consolingly from his spot, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Ge, it’s done now.”
“You turned into your worst fears / And you’re tossing out blame, drunk on this pain,
Crossing out the good years / And you’re cursing my name, wishing I stayed.”
Ren Ronghu hears yelling, but he can’t make out words. Blood is pouring out of--so many places, he feels like it’s all he can register.
Xiu Lihua holds him desperately in her arms. Crying, again. Always crying. She’s been a cryer since she was young.
“I’m sorry,” he chokes out, but the words come out gargled from his throat. More crimson seeps through his lips.
“Don’t be sorry--” That’s Xiu Lihua, he thinks, but it’s hard to tell-- “Ren Ronghu, don’t you dare close your eyes, if you’re sorry, make it up to me! If you’re sorry, then you can’t just die and leave me again, damnit, Ren Ronghu! Shi Jinghui, where’s--”
Gently, he lifts a hand to her face. His sight is blurry, but he think she's looking down at him, now. He cups her cheek, softly as he can.
“It’s alright now. You can go,” Ren Ronghu whispers, to Xiu Lihua's protest, and the darkness pulls at his vision. “Goodnight, meimei.”
He closes his eyes. Breath no longer comes to his lungs. There is Xiu Lihua’s god-awful scream, a horrible wail, and then, at last.
It is dark.
“Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you /
’Til my dying day.”
Xiu Lihua calls Ren Ronghu “shixiong” because that’s how you address an older male in your sect / your martial older brother! Their relationship is brother-sister like and not romantic.
striking nerves & other things
When Shi Jinghui first opens the doors to the room, a boy shoves past him, storming out of it.
He considers going after Yue Yunqi, but thinks better of it. Xiu Lihua sits on the bed, covered in bandages.
“He’s upset,” Shi Jinghui starts, gentle.
“He’ll come around,” Xiu Lihua answers, stretching her limbs mildly. With a wince, she adds, “He can’t stay mad at me for long, ha, this weekend is my b—...well, he can’t stay mad at me forever.”
Shi Jinghui frowns. He crosses the room to where the drawers are, pulling one open to wordlessly rummage through the ointments.
“You can’t keep doing this,” he says.
She looks away. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do, Xiu Lihua,” Shi Jinghui presses, insistent, shutting the drawer. “This is by no means the first time I’ve treated you because you decided someone else’s life was more important than yours, do you know that? Or does every moment you decide to be a human shield just meld together because they’re so common?”
Xiu Lihua whips around at that, indignant. “I don’t—you have no idea what you’re talking about, Shi Jinghui—”
“I think I have a fairly good one, and enough to have a theory, maybe, that—”
″—I’ve done everything I can to stay alive this long—”
″—that you think it’s acceptable,” Shi Jinghui finishes, somber, “because you think they won’t care in the end, anyways.”
Xiu Lihua stiffens. She says nothing.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” he continues, mildly opening the ointment jar. “Ren Liufang, Qian Guozhi, Zhang Yuting, Yue Yunqi. You cared for them so much at some point, and when everything fell apart, you thought they’d never felt the same. And from there, I think—you decided that no one could ever feel the same, either. Who would care about you, right?”
Xiu Lihua’s hands balls into fists in her sheets. She stares down at them in lieu of a response.
“You’re wrong,” Shi Jinghui sits down on the bed next to her, letting out a breath. “You’re wrong, Xiu-guniang, and I say that as a friend. You can’t keep nearly dying for people that you love, and then deciding that you’re...a burden to them before they can get the chance to say that they don’t care about you.” He pauses, laying a gentle hand on hers. “You decide yourself that they don’t care about you because you don’t want to give them the chance to. But people do, Xiu Lihua. Is it so hard to believe that there’s at least one person in this world that loves you enough to ask you to stay?”
Xiu Lihua’s deathly still at that, but—her hands shake ever so slightly. After a long few moments of silence, she answers, giving a small, mirthless laugh, “It’s not like anyone ever has.”
Shi Jinghui sighs, pushing aside the jar, then turns to face her properly. He opens his arms, head tilting in question. She scoots forward, then meets him in an embrace.
“It’s bad luck to be crying the week before your birthday,” he says, patting her back consolingly as she hiccups quietly.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, watery. “You didn’t even say much, and I’m...”
He hums. “As a physician, people tend to react the most when I’ve pressed closest to the wound. We just pressed...really close to the wound, is all.”
″Yeah,” Xiu Lihua answers, laughing wetly. “That was kinda scary, Shi-yisheng.”
“Oops,” Shi Jinghui says, deadpan. They both laugh at that. And everything's not perfect, but—time heals. So long as treatment is there.