“i’ve got death inside of me.
The beginning of Yixing’s end is a quiet one. It comes as he does his nightly check of the houseplants in his room: he reaches over to pluck a wilted leaf off of his favorite potted bonsai, only for it to unfurl its brown edges the moment his fingertips touch it, a vivid green returning to its veins. There is no shock, no sudden revelation - he merely closes his eyes, sighs, and knows that his death must be near, because people who are capable of the extraordinary are people whose deaths are merely a matter of time. It doesn't even occur to him to doubt himself, to try to convince himself that he was seeing things - he likes to be optimistic, but when he thinks about it, he realizes that he had been expecting something like this to happen eventually.
Knowing that something has changed, though, is vastly different from knowing what to do when something changes. Without thinking about it, he finishes the rest of the night the way he always does: he puts his plants back onto the windowsill, slips his headphones over his ears, and lies down on his bed, hands folded over his stomach. Things feel deceptively normal, even though he is fundamentally a different person than he was just minutes ago, because he doesn't know what he should do - he’s only a high schooler, a teenager, somebody who hasn't been confronted with his own mortality before. He thinks to himself, One more night of being the me that wasn’t going to die. When he wakes up, he can figure out out the rest.
He goes to sleep and doesn’t remember if he dreams or not. He doesn’t know it yet, but it’s the last time he’ll ever wake up in the morning and not feel exhaustion still lingering in his bones.
The next day, Yixing realizes that the world doesn’t stop so that one boy can decide what to do when he is going to die. That day, and the day after that, and the day after that, he goes through the same motions that he always does, the same things repeating again and again as they always have, except that all the while he wonders - how should a person act when they know that their end both near and inevitable?
At first he experiments by trying his newfound abilities on his plants, imbuing them with energy until all of them are so green and lush that they look like plastic imitations. Next, he turns onto himself, and discovers that it’s impossible for him to inflict any injuries on himself. He’s too scared and not masochistic enough to attempt anything more than shallow cuts or bruises, but what he does try fades away in a matter of seconds, leaving no marks or pain. Finally, he tries healing other people, which he does secretly and subtly: he lets himself brush up against other people who pass him in the school hallways, and watches as one boy stops limping, and another girl suddenly stands up a little straighter and tells her friend, “I don’t know why, but I feel so much better now.”
He has to figure out how his powers work through trial and error because there’s no other way for him to learn more. It’s well-known fact that people who develop supernatural powers are fated to die soon, but not much else is known about the phenomenon. Most like him keep it secret - for good reason, Yixing thinks, because it’s already a heavy burden to be so acutely aware of one’s impending death, and making it known would guarantee that their eventual decline would be turned into both spectacle and study. He doesn’t want his death to be a display, and he can't imagine that many other people do, either.
By searching the Internet, he manages to learn that people like him have different powers: some can summon and control the elements, others can manipulate their surroundings, some can heal, and others have more obscure abilities. Nobody knows why they are capable of doing what they can, but Yixing thinks that it’s because the life in their bodies bleeds out too rapidly, too powerfully, spilling into their surroundings uncontrollably. Ever since he realized his power to give life, he’s noticed he can also perceive it if he concentrates hard enough - people have a certain glowing light around them, intensely bright among the young and dimmer the older they get, but no matter how vibrant or how dull, the light sticks to each person like an outline. The only person’s life light he can’t see is his own, but he suspects that if he could, his would be wild, attempting to merge itself into anything that it comes into contact with.
The logical continuation of this train of thought is that using his healing abilities requires him to sacrifice some of his life. It would explain a lot, he thinks, because as the weeks pass he gets more easily exhausted, and he decides to stop actively using his powers if he can help it.
If it’s true, he realizes, then being given with the ability to heal means that he will not just die: he will decay.
Yixing tries to hide the physical toll that healing takes on his body, fooling most, but it doesn’t escape the attention of his friends. That doesn’t surprise him - Yifan and Lu Han have known him since they were children, and Zitao is perceptive enough to pick up on the obvious. None of them say anything, but they make it known through the little things they do. Yifan gently shakes him awake during class when he can’t keep his eyes open and lets him copy the notes he misses without complaining. Lu Han makes excuses to get him out of physical education and they spend the period sitting together under the bleachers. Even Zitao, who has always been more of Yifan’s and Lu Han’s friend than his proper, starts walking to and from school with him, because he lives closest to Yixing out of the three.
Yixing knows they don’t ask what’s wrong because they trust him to tell them when he’s ready to. That makes it easy to pretend like there’s nothing wrong, because it doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong: like always, he makes fun of Yifan for his bad jokes and like always, he helps Zitao with his math homework, and like always, he trades idle gossip with Lu Han - all the little things that come naturally to him, that define him as a person. To him, it’d be more frightening to face losing them - the easy way that Lu Han leans into his side when they walk next to each other, or how Yifan lets Yixing eat his snacks even though Yixing never asks permission, or the shy smile Zitao gives him when he asks Yixing for advice - because it’s a fear he can comprehend, not like the fear of dying.
If things could always be like this (here, now, with them), he’d be happy. But he knows that time always moves on, and everything eventually comes to a close. It’s only a matter of velocity.
Part of him has been convinced that this would be how he ends, because Yixing’s mother had been the same way he is now. At the time, he’d been too young to understand what it meant when she had reached over and touched away his hurts and pains as if they were nothing, but the memory firmly planted itself into his mind that he can remember it vividly even years later.
“Oh, Yixing,” she’d said, frowning as he tracked mud into their kitchen. “Your legs are a mess, what did you do to yourself?”
He’d looked down at himself, almost surprised to see the scrapes and half-dried blood on his knees. No matter how hard he tried, he would always hurt himself when he went out to play with the neighborhood kids - he liked to play rough but his skin was delicate, and even though she chided him constantly, he would come back the next time with too many bumps and bruises for a mother’s heart to bear. “I’m sorry,” he’d told her.
“You have to be more careful, Yixing,” she said. She took the first aid kit from its cabinet in the kitchen before offering her hand to him and leading him to the living room, where she sat him down on the couch and crouched down in front of him.
“I will be,” he replied, biting his lip slightly and looking down. “I’m sorry, Mama, I really really am.”
“I know you are,” she murmured, brushing his cheek lightly. She’d opened the kit, but then hesitated for a moment. She looked around with a nervousness that Yixing had never seen in her before, and closed it without taking anything out. Putting a finger to her lips, she whispered to him, “Our secret, Yixing.” He had nodded solemnly and watched, wide-eyed, as she pressed her hands against his scrapes and bruises and wiped them away with a clean, elegant motion, erasing them as if they were smudges of dirt.
“Mama,” he started to say, because even at his young age his instincts told him that this couldn’t possibly be normal - but she shook her head and smiled as she stood back up.
“Don’t forget, Yixing,” she’d told him before she turned to put the first aid kit back in the kitchen. “It’s our secret.”
A few months later, she died in her sleep. His father was crushed, confused and distraught because there was no reason for her to die, nothing that suggested her time to pass on was near. He became distant, emotionally and physically, and Yixing lost the person he’d called his father when his mother had died, too. It wasn’t until years later that Yixing realized there were only two people who had known about her secret, and one of them had already taken it to the grave. At first he had thought it cruel, but when he laid in his bed, wondering if he should tell his father, he came to understand that she had not been cruel - she had been unbelievably kind.
His second realization comes even later - he’d always thought that when she murmured to him our secret that she had been trying to tell him goodbye. It isn’t until he too is fated to die that he realizes that what she had really wanted to say was something completely different - I love you.
Lately, he thinks a lot about his mother, about his father, about Lu Han and Yifan and Zitao, and decides that he must also be strong for the people he loves.
The time for university tests draws closer, and Yixing distracts himself by studying, because the importance and prestige of getting into a good university is something he’s been working towards for years, and it feels like a waste of all his studying to simply let it go like that. He starts spending his afternoons studying at Yifan’s apartment - partially because he gets tired of being alone in his room, partially because Yifan can explain complicated concepts so that Yixing understands them perfectly, but mostly because he likes the comfortable feeling of sitting by Yifan’s side, notebooks and textbooks scattered across the coffee table in Yifan’s living room. Sometimes, Lu Han or Zitao joins them, but they usually don’t. Zitao is a year below them and Lu Han has already been assured entry into a Korean university, so their need to study isn’t as pressing. Yixing doesn’t mind - Yifan is his oldest friend, and he likes that they can have a time and space just for them. Such is the way with childhood friends: one can’t help but be a little selfish with them every once in a while.
Out of everybody, Yixing wants to keep his secret from Yifan the most. Yifan, he knows, would give up whatever he thought he needed to if it could help Yixing even a little bit. He would never realize that his sacrifices weren’t worth anything - that he had thrown away millions of different paths at his feet for somebody who only has one road to follow. Yifan would never regret it, because he would have done what was right in his heart. Yixing sacrifices himself for the people he loves because he believes in fate but Yifan sacrifices himself for the people he loves because he doesn’t, and that makes all the difference.
Still, there are times when Yixing’s tempted, like the afternoon when Yifan puts his left hand down next to Yixing’s right, brushing against it that their pinkies overlap. Yixing looks up and over at Yifan, but Yifan won’t meet his gaze. After a few moments, he clears his throat. “Yifan,” he says, and he’s almost surprised at how uncertain his voice comes out. “I can’t write like this, you know?”
For some time, there’s no response, and Yixing wonders if he’s heard, but then Yifan sighs. “I know,” he says.
“Could you move your hand, then?” Yixing asks. He’s not sure why he feels so nervous.
Finally, Yifan looks up into Yixing’s eyes, and Yixing thinks that he gets what Yifan is trying to communicate to him: You always forget there are people who are here for you. You always forget that I’m here for you. All he says, though, is a simple “I’m sorry,” before he lifts his hand. “That was kind of awkward, wasn’t it?” he says, trying to sound light-hearted.
Yixing laughs a little, if only because he doesn’t know how else to react. “You’re always a little awkward,” he replies. He reaches out with his foot and nudges Yifan’s ankle, a corner of his lips quirking up into a half-smile - his way of saying thank you. Yifan, he knows, will understand.
There’s a part of him that wants to confess now, a selfish part of him that wants Yifan to dote upon him until he’s dead and for Yifan to always be haunted by his memory when he’s gone. Instead, he clenches his left hand so hard that his fingernails leave crescent-moon marks in his palm and continues writing notes, even though none of the words are sinking into his head.
As with all things, exams come and go. College acceptances come back - Yixing gets into the middle-of-the-road university he’d been aiming for, one with a good music department only a few train stops from home, and Yifan gets into Beijing University, surprising approximately nobody - so Yixing stops going over to Yifan’s apartment after school. He starts playing hooky occasionally, but most days he forces himself to go to school, if only because Zitao shows up at his doorstep most mornings so they can walk together. He spends more time with Yifan and Zitao and Lu Han, but when the four of them are together, there’s an air of tension that begs to be broken. It builds up for days upon days, and eventually it’s Zitao who shatters it.
“In a few months, everybody will be in different places,” Zitao says one afternoon as they lean against the school gates, watching the rest of the students leaving.
Yixing watches Lu Han and Yifan exchange uneasy glances. “We might be in different places, but we won’t be apart from each other,” Lu Han finally says. He smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Our friendship’s definitely not that cheap. There’s texting and internet and hell, there’s even normal mail - a lot of things might change, but our friendship won’t. Right?”
All of them, though, know that people are inherently transitory. Lu Han will go to South Korea and when he comes back he’ll come back different, and they won’t be able to completely comprehend the new Lu Han because they couldn’t be with him when he changed, even though they’ll still love him. Yifan will excel in whatever he does and enter a world that the rest of them can’t, the upper echelons of society, the top of the top, even if his core will always be the same. Zitao will learn to stand on for himself and the things he believes in instead of following others. Their friendship won’t be the same anymore, because they won’t be the same, but it won’t be sad - their friendship will grow, because they as individuals have to grow.
Yixing, though, will always be eighteen. He’ll never know someplace that’s not here, some time that’s not now, somewhere without them. So really, he thinks, he’s the only one who’s not lying when he smiles and agrees.
His condition gets to the point where Yixing has to willfully think about keeping his light inside of him to prevent it from leaking out. Just being close enough to another living being is enough for it suck energy from him, and eventually he’s forced to put his plants into different rooms because they pull at him when he’s trying to sleep and leave him short of breath. The only thing he keeps is his bonsai, because it was the last thing that his mother gave to him: “It’s a beautiful thing to care for something beyond yourself,” she’d told him as she handed the tiny tree to him. “You’ll understand what I mean once you experience it yourself.” Yixing’s mother had been gentle, but not sentimental - the plant was one of the only things he could grasp onto after her death, and he doesn’t think he’ll be able to part with it until his own.
Even still, his sleep becomes increasingly fitful, and eventually it becomes easier to stay awake and exhausted than try to sleep anymore. His friends try to pretend like they don’t notice, for his sake, and he’s grateful.
Summer break comes. He knows he should take advantage of the free time to be with his friends, but it’s difficult for him to be around other people when he’s so tired, so he instead spends his time in solitary places. He’s never been the type to stay in contact with others consistently - he rarely returns texts or picks up calls or even checks his e-mail - and it’s almost as if he’s trying to drop off the face of the planet. He doesn’t mind, because he’s never been bothered by loneliness, though he does miss being able to see his friends every day.
The feeling must be mutual, because the second Saturday after break starts, the doorbell rings in the morning and Lu Han stands there when Yixing answers the door. “You’re alive,” Lu Han says, and it strikes Yixing as an ironic greeting. “We’ve been worried, you know?”
“I’m sorry,” he says, because he doesn’t know how to explain himself any other way.
“You’re alright, aren’t you?” Lu Han asks.
Yixing smiles. “I’m fine. Really.”
Lu Han gives him a look that says I don’t believe you, but all he does is shrug and tell him, “If you say so. Wanna hang out?”
“Yeah,” Yixing says, and Lu Han smiles.
They end up wandering to the outskirts of town, where there are tangles of wild plants and a tiny stream that trickles off into the distance. Coming here reminds Yixing of being young, and that Lu Han has brought him here makes him think maybe Lu Han has already figured out his secret. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been here, huh?” Lu Han says as they sit along a barely-cleared path alongside the stream, watching the water flow.
The weeds at Yixing’s feet tug at his light, but he tries his best to not let them win over him. “Yeah. Even though we used to come here almost every day,” he replies and smiles ruefully. “Back during middle school. When we’d tried so hard to stay as far away from homework and chores and responsibility as we could.”
“We were such terrible kids back then,” Lu Han says, smiling despite himself. “Do you remember? Seriously, look at us now - I would never have believed we’d turn out the way that we did. We were all incredible brats then high school came and Yifan was captain of the basketball team and graduated top five in our class. And you’ve been practically independent for years now, plus you’ve got composing and that guitar of yours.” There’s a pause. “And, well, there’s me too, I guess. Still kind of a brat, really.”
“Yeah, it’s not like you were president of the community service club, or one of the most popular people in our whole school, or going off to Korea by yourself, or anything like that,” Yixing replies, nudging Lu Han’s shoulder with his own.
Lu Han laughs. “That was back before we’d met Zitao, huh? No wonder Zitao can never believe it when we talk about what little shits we were back in the day. We’re such goody two-shoes now,” he says, half-joking, half-serious.
“A person with a face like yours shouldn’t use language like that,” Yixing teases. “It ruins the expectations people get from looking at you. And besides, we weren’t that bad. It’s not like we were mean or anything, we were just... wild, I guess. With nobody to keep us in check. But we turned out alright.”
“Yeah,” Lu Han agrees, and Yixing can tell they’re both thinking the same thing: back then had been when Yixing had moved on from being sad at his mother’s death to being angry, when Yifan’s parents had just gotten divorced, when Lu Han had gone through his first major falling-out with his parents and almost run away from home. They’d all been confused and upset and too young for all those emotions, and perhaps it was only to be expected that they’d all ended up friends. “We grew up,” he says. “That’s all that matters.”
For a while, there is silence. Then, Yixing takes a breath, gives into his intuition, and asks, “Lu Han. How long have you known?”
Lu Han doesn’t even look surprised at the question, and Yixing is reminded that while Yifan is his oldest friend, Lu Han is the one who knows him the best. “I don’t know,” he answers. “A while. Long enough. It wasn’t that hard to figure out, not once I knew what I was looking for.” He gestures vaguely at the ground - despite Yixing’s best efforts, the plants surrounding him are slowly turning from gray to green.
“Do the others know?” he asks hesitantly.
Lu Han shakes his head. “They know something’s wrong. They just don’t know what.” He looks up into Yixing’s eyes. “Don’t worry, Yixing. I won’t tell them.”
“I know you wouldn’t,” Yixing replies. There is a pause, and then he says, “I didn’t keep it a secret because I don’t trust you, you know. I just...”
“Didn’t know how to say it,” Lu Han fills in as Yixing trails off. “I figured. I wouldn’t, either.” He sighs. “And you were probably trying to save us the pain, weren’t you?”
Yixing doesn’t answer. “Please don’t tell them,” he says.
“I would never. That’s your secret to tell. But if it makes any difference, I think you should,” Lu Han replies.
Lu Han sighs again, and turns to look down at the stream flowing beneath them. “Because there’s a lot they would regret never saying or doing,” he replies. “If they knew... I think a lot would change. A lot would be different. Maybe it wouldn’t be for the better, but...”
“Like what?” Yixing asks, genuinely curious. “What would be different?”
“I can’t say for sure,” Lu Han replies. He bites his lip and Yixing knows there are dozens of things he wants to say, but won’t. “It’s just a feeling that I have.”
Yixing nods once in acknowledgment. They fall silent, so that the only sound is the quiet noise of water running over rock. The stream here is small and gentle - when it doesn’t rain for a long time, it disappears, but it always comes back after the first storm. “If you followed this stream down until it became a river, I suppose it would empty into the sea eventually,” Yixing says. “And the sea would turn into the ocean. And the ocean merges into other oceans, and maybe, if you followed it long enough, you could go all the way across the world.”
“Do you want to try?” Lu Han asks.
Yixing smiles. “No,” he replies. “I like it here, with you and Yifan and Zitao and everybody else.”
“Then stay here,” Lu Han replies, holding his hand out for Yixing to take.
It’s not that easy and they both know it, but sitting together, it almost feels it could be. Like this, Yixing can close his eyes and fold his hand into Lu Han’s and make himself believe that they will always be able to return home.
To pass time, Yixing writes. He writes his memories and sometimes realizes after he rereads the words that he’d made up a better ending than the way things had actually been. He writes notes addressed to his mother, to his friends, to his absent father, and never finishes any of them. He starts writing a song that ends up turning into a dictionary of all the different kinds of tiredness he’s come to understand: tiredness of not being able to move your body the way you want it to, tiredness of being tired, tiredness of the right side of the body (an entirely different tiredness from that of the left side), tiredness of thinking too much and never finding answers, tiredness of not knowing what to do, tiredness of pretending you aren’t tired, tiredness of the hands and fingers and face and eyes and legs and feet, tiredness of waiting, tiredness that makes your heart clench almost as if you are in love.
Writing doesn’t make Yixing happy. Writing, to him, is a way of living vicariously because like this he can’t live any other way.
One afternoon, Zitao comes over with an oversized paper bag filled with peaches. “My family from the countryside sent us, like, three crates,” he explains, grinning sheepishly. “I thought you might like some.”
“I’d make a joke about a peach giving me peaches, but I’m sure Yifan already did that,” Yixing says, smiling slightly. “Why don’t you come in for a while?”
“Okay,” Zitao agrees, and Yixing steps back to let him into the apartment. Zitao puts the bag down on the kitchen counter and Yixing offers him a cup of tea.
“Tell me how your summer’s been,” Yixing says as he switches on the electric kettle. “You’re working, aren’t you?”
Zitao shrugs. “It’s been alright,” he answers, voice soft. “I don’t have a lot of free time, but it’s okay. How’ve you been, though? I’ve barely seen you at all during break so far.”
“I’ve been okay, all things considered,” Yixing says carefully.
“I worried a little, to be honest,” Zitao admits, and Yixing believes it. “But Lu Han and Yifan just said that it’s how you are.”
Yixing laughs softly, sitting down across from Zitao and holding out their tin of teabags to let him rummage through and pick one. “You don’t have to worry about me,” he replies.
“They said you’d say that,” Zitao says wryly. He picks out black chai, and when the electric kettle switches off Yixing pours them both cups and they sit, watching their teabags steep.
For a while neither of them speak, but eventually Yixing breaks the silence: “Zitao,” he says. “You shouldn’t be like me, you know? You should find somebody you can tell all your secrets to.”
Zitao puts the cup he has half-raised to his lip back down onto the table. “Then can I tell a secret to you?” he asks.
Yixing tilts his head slightly. Not a yes, but not a no.
“Lately I’ve been so tired,” Zitao says. His voice is distant, like there is a sheet of glass between them. “And it doesn’t go away when I wake up in the morning, no matter how long I sleep.”
There are so many things he could say - so many things that he should say - but all Yixing does is sigh and reply, “I think that, probably, most people feel like that at least once in their life.”
Zitao doesn’t say anything in response. A few moments pass, and then Zitao pulls out his cell phone to check the time. “I should go,” he says, and tries to smile. “Thanks for the tea.”
“Thanks for the peaches,” Yixing says, and gets up to open the door for him. It’s only when Zitao’s already turned and walking down the hall that Yixing forces himself to look up and concentrate hard on Zitao’s silhouette to confirm what he already had a feeling was reality: Zitao’s light is fading. Like him, Zitao is dying.
Yixing lies awake at night and considers carefully if he should do something. Zitao isn’t like him. His death will be through the normal kind of decay, and therein lies the draw: that is precisely the kind of decay that Yixing can fix, but only at the cost of his own.
“What am I supposed to do?” he murmurs, and he wonders what his mother would have done if it were her. He rolls over on his bed and stares at his bonsai listlessly, but as he stares, a plan starts to form in his mind: a test, he thinks to himself. A test of character, for Zitao and for himself.
He knows time is at a premium - the longer he waits, the more he wastes away and the less he can help Zitao, if that’s what he ends up doing. Nevertheless, he spends several days deliberating over what kind of thing he’s looking for. It’s uncomfortable to think about - it seems like he’s trying to play god, when he feels like he’s really only deciding what kind of selfishness is the lesser one. It’s nearly five days later when he realizes his half-formed ideas are going nowhere, and he decides that he has to do something instead of wasting more time.
After midnight is the time to make decisions recklessly - at two in the morning, Yixing calls Zitao and asks him, “Can you come over sometime tomorrow?”
He can hear the sleepiness in Zitao’s voice when he replies, confused, “Is there something wrong? Is it an emergency?”
“No,” Yixing replies. “I’m sorry for calling at this time. But I just thought of it, and I wanted to ask before I forgot.”
Zitao yawns. “Okay,” he agrees. “Tomorrow afternoon?”
“That’s fine with me. Come by whenever is fine for you - I’ll be at home,” Yixing says. There’s a pause, and then he adds, “Goodnight, Zitao.”
Zitao barely manages to mumble out a goodnight in turn before he hangs up and falls back asleep. Yixing wishes he could, too.
He spends the morning writing again, but it’s with a quiet desperation he’s never felt before. He writes letters to Yifan and Lu Han confessing all sorts of things, some of which may not even be true like we love each other but maybe we could have fallen in love, too and someday you’ll find somebody else who notices the little things that you do the same way I do and there is nothing I would have done differently and nothing you could have changed. He writes letters to Zitao saying it’s not your fault and I didn’t do it for you because I am selfish. He writes letters to his father saying I never blamed you and you were a good man even if you couldn’t be a good parent. He writes letters to his mother full of questions like why did you have to tell me your secret? and what would I have done differently if you hadn’t died the way you did? and will I see you soon?
They’re all indulgent and self-centered and he knows it. Despite that, he ends up taking all of the words he’s written and bundling together and putting them in his bag.
Yixing knows his invitation was an unceremonious one, so he’s not surprised to see curiosity in Zitao’s face when he opens the door to let him in. “Good afternoon,” Zitao says.
Yixing smiles. “Come in, sit down. I have something that I want to give to you,” he replies. He leads Zitao into the kitchen and has him sit by the table while he goes to his room. There’s a moment of hesitation before he steels himself and picks up the bonsai sitting on his windowsill, and returns, sitting next to Zitao and holding the plant out to him. “I want you to have her,” he says.
It takes a few moments for Zitao to reply. “I don’t understand,” he murmurs. “I thought you loved this plant.”
“I do,” Yixing replies. “I love her as if she were a person. But I think it’s time for me to pass her on to somebody else who can come to love her too.”
“But why me?” Zitao asks.
“Because you’re gentle and hard-working and kind-hearted and I know you will take good care of her,” Yixing explains. “But more than that, I think you’ll need her. Lu Han and Yifan... both of them have good hearts, too, but they need something else that I can’t give to them. But this...” He sighs, then smiles. “Soon, Lu Han and Yifan and I will have to go away, and you’ll still be here. I think it might be hard at first... Anyway, you’ll take good care of her. And she’ll take good care of you, too.”
Zitao stares, but he nods his head. “If you think it would be okay, then I’ll accept,” he says hesitantly. There is a pause before he offers a shy smile. “Thank you, Yixing.”
Yixing nods shallowly before he goes on. “I’d like to ask you one thing, though,” he says. “I’d like it if I could have her for one last night. It’s alright if you say no, but...”
“Of course,” Zitao replies, before Yixing can even finish his sentence. “You should have her as long as you still want her.”
Yixing smiles. “I only need her this one last night. But thank you, Zitao.” Carefully, he places the bonsai onto the table and beckons Zitao a little closer. They sit at the table together for nearly half an hour as Yixing carefully explains how to take care of her - how much water she needs, how much light, how often she should be trimmed or repotted. Zitao soaks it all in and repeats after Yixing’s instructions until he says he thinks he can remember everything, but at the end of it all, Yixing tells him the most important thing: “As long as you love her,” he says, “that’s most important. If you love her, she’ll stay alive no matter what.”
Zitao nods, and the look in his eyes is genuine. Yixing can tell he gets it: Zitao could come to care for something outside of himself, something he didn’t expect that he might come to love someday, and so Yixing knows he will not regret what he’s decided to do. “Come back tomorrow for her,” Yixing says, and smiles. “I’ll be ready then.”
The next morning, Yixing slings the bag full of letters over his shoulder and goes over to Lu Han’s apartment. Yixing has walked there so many times before that he even knows the number of steps he has to take - roughly 2,700, give or take 50 in either direction. He might be exhausted, but there are some things that don’t change.
“Good morning,” Lu Han says when he opens the door. He smiles, and the corners of his eyes go up. “What brings you here all bright and early?”
Yixing laughs, because it’s almost noon, and once upon the summers past this used to be early for them - but then, he remembers why he’s here. “There were a million things I wanted to tell you,” he says, “some of them important. And most of them not.”
“So tell me,” Lu Han replies.
Yixing shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I think I realized while I was halfway here that they don’t actually matter that much. And that it wouldn’t be fair to you. And that I think maybe I just wanted an excuse to see you.”
Lu Han’s expression softens, and Yixing sees emotions clouding Lu Han’s eyes that he has never seen in them before. Lu Han, he knows, already knows why he is here. “Since when do you need an excuse to see me?” Lu Han asks, before he bites his lip to try to stop his voice from catching - it’s one of the tells that only Yixing would notice.
“I know,” Yixing says, and sighs. “Lu Han... can I be a little selfish right now? Can I ask you for one last favor?”
“If it’s for you, then always,” Lu Han replies.
“I wrote these,” Yixing says, and digs out the papers from his bag. “Can you take these for me?”
Lu Han reaches out, hesitating for a moment before he lets Yixing put them in his hand. He asks, “What do you want me to do with them? Deliver them?”
“No,” Yixing answers. “I want you to burn them. When the time is right.”
Neither of them seem to be able to look directly at each other. “When will that be?” Lu Han asks.
“You’ll know,” Yixing replies. He closes his eyes, sighs, and looks up, reaching out to touch Lu Han’s arm gently.
Lu Han hesitates before meeting his gaze. “Yixing,” he says. “What are you trying to tell me?”
“You’re my best friend, Lu Han,” Yixing replies. “You’re my best friend and I love you. I’m sorry.” It’s not the answer Lu Han is looking for, but he thinks that Lu Han will know what he means.
Lu Han laughs weakly. “Yixing, you are the only person I’ll ever know who apologizes for loving somebody,” he says.
No, he thinks to himself. I won’t be. Not to you. But all he says is, “I think I should go now, Lu Han.”
It takes him a few moments before he replies. “See you later, then,” Lu Han finally says, and it sounds more like a prayer than a farewell. Yixing doesn’t know what he can possibly say in return that would be fair, so as he turns to leave he doesn’t say anything at all.
Yixing remembers when he was four and he made friends with Yifan shoving each other across the playground. He remembers sleeping over in each others’ rooms, sharing childish secrets and thinking they were the most important in the world. He remembers going to school together and eating at each others’ apartments during lunchtime. He remembers watching Yifan cry when his parents divorced, and he remembers that Yifan let him cry on his shoulder when his mother died. He remembers their preadolescent oath to move in together and become platonic life partners if neither of them had married by the age of thirty-five. He remembers so many things, and because of that he knows that there is nothing he could say or do that wouldn’t make him wish that he had said or done something different instead. If he sees Yifan right now he doesn’t know what he might do: he might cry or he might not be able to say anything at all or he might kiss him or he might confess everything. The only constant is that he will regret it.
Instead of walking to Yifan’s apartment, he goes back home. He lies down on the couch and pulls out his cell phone and sends a single text. It’s the safe thing to do, because Yifan knows he doesn’t check his phone often and it wouldn’t be strange if he sent a single text and never followed up on it.
To: Wu Yifan
From: Zhang Yixing
Yifan, I like you ^^
Don’t forget me when you go to Beijing and beyond, okay?
After it sends, he turns his cell phone off and lets it drop to the floor. Tiredness that makes your heart clench, he thinks to himself, almost as if you are in love.
When the doorbell rings later, Yixing has to force himself up and off the couch to answer it. He tries to not show how much of a toll it takes on him, but it’s impossible - when Yixing opens the door, the first thing Zitao does is ask, “Is everything alright?”
He smiles, even though his heart’s in shambles. “Yeah,” he answers.
“I can’t stay long,” Zitao says. “I have to be back home soon. Is that alright?”
“It’s fine,” Yixing replies. “I don’t need much time. I’ll just bring her to you and then let you along your way, okay?”
Zitao nods. Yixing turns to take the bonsai from his room, taking each step to and from the front door deliberately, taking care not to walk too fast or too slow. When he returns, he hands the plant out to Zitao and smiles. “Take care, Zitao,” he says. “Not just of her. Of yourself, too.”
“I will,” Zitao says as he reaches out to take it in both hands. “I promise.”
Yixing takes a breath and holds the air in his lungs - this is it, he thinks to himself. This is the moment things have been building up to, and everything from here on out is merely afterthought. He reaches up and cups his hands against Zitao’s cheeks, pressing lightly, gently, and he looks Zitao in the eye as he concentrates on focusing what’s left of his life into his fingers and palms. Zitao looks surprised, but doesn’t draw back, and Yixing starts pouring the light from his body into Zitao’s. Zitao gazes back and Yixing can see he’s nervous, but Yixing smiles and the worry in his eyes fades.
He doesn't know how long it takes, but it’s only when Yixing starts to feel the last of his strength leave his fingertips that he withdraws. He can’t tell if it’s worked - his vision blurs around the edges no matter how hard he concentrates, and he can’t see the light the way he normally does - but that’s not what matters, not really. Yixing wants to say something, anything, yet he can’t seem to think up any words that are profound enough for what he feels - but then Zitao says, “Thank you -” (Yixing’s heart skips a beat and wonders if he knows) “- thank you for being my friend, Yixing. I’m glad that we met. And I’ll miss you when you have to leave for university.” When he smiles Yixing feels inexplicably warm and his heart is convinced that yes - this is how it must be.
Yixing smiles back and says, “No, I think I should thank you.”
Zitao opens his mouth as if to argue, but seems to think better of it. “I’m happy, then. That you feel the same way.” There’s a pause, and then he says, “I’m sorry - I told my parents I would be back soon. I’ll see you later, okay?”
He doesn't answer and simply waves as he watches Zitao turn to leave, to go home to his parents who love him, to go home to many more years in the future, to go home to a different fate. His body feels weak but his heart is light.
Yixing is exhausted from his bones to his soul, but there’s still one more thing that he has to do. Through sheer force of will, he takes the plants that he’d moved out of his bedroom and returns them to their rightful place by his bedside windowsill. He gives each of them a careful examination - there are no leaves that look too unhealthy, and autumn buds that some of them have begun to form over in the last week or so look ready to bloom soon, exactly as they should be. He sighs, satisfied. Everything is as it should be.
Having finished that, he takes his MP3 player off of his desk, flipping through the albums until he comes to a mix that Lu Han gave him almost two years ago. He sprawls himself across his bed haphazardly and slips his headphones over his ears, waiting a second or two before pressing play.
Yixing closes his eyes and clasps his hands on top of his stomach. Finally, he thinks to himself, I can sleep.
fandom: exo - lay-centric, chinaline (implied lay/chinaline all over the place, especially layhan, krislay)
warnings: this fic deals with the subject of death/the process of dying as one of the overarching themes.
summary: People who are able to do the extraordinary are known to have short lifespans, and Yixing’s a high school student who finds one day that he is able to heal. But the world doesn't stop so that one boy can decide what to do when he is going to die, and the path to the end might be an unexpected one.
- this is probably the first fic i have very seriously edited, and i hope it shows? i am very needlessly wordy, haha. as it is it’s still wordy, but i tried my best to make each word count. editing is really difficult for me, compared to writing! i definitely need to work on it more. or hire somebody to do it for me? (wishful thinking haha ah...)
- i would like to make it clear that yixing’s choices at the end of this fic should not reflect my ideas on what a “meaningful” end is or is not. his choice is not about that at all.
- i actually finished this on christmas but i didn’t want to be like “happy hols everybody have 7.5k of SAD” so i waited until the 26th (in my timezone) to post...
- re: the title. to quote wikipedia, “When the flowers of [the red spider lily] bloom, their leaves would have fallen; when their leaves grow, the flowers would have wilted [...] Some legends have it that when a person sees someone that they may never meet again, these flowers, also called red spider lilies, would bloom along the path.”