As Xie Lian walked up the steps to his apartment, his cheeks carried a blush as he pondered the surreality of the last two days.
Since the time he had first set foot into San Lang’s apartment, two nights had passed… for one because walking was entirely impossible after the first night, and secondly… Xie Lian didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to go anywhere that wasn’t near San Lang. The comfort of getting coffee served at your bedside, gentle words making sure you were warm enough, standing on your tip-toes to reach a face taller than your own… he had already gotten used to all of it. How strange, he thought… they had just properly met a few days ago, yet it felt like they had known each other for years. There was none of the discomfort or cringeworthy awkwardness between them that you might expect, none of the dull disappointment when you find out that your crush isn’t the person you thought they were, nothing of the sort; when Xie Lian was with San Lang, he felt at home.
Now, coming up on his apartment door, he felt far away from home. Even though he and San Lang had just parted minutes ago, after getting breakfast in a cozy cafe and going to a christmas tree exhibition together, giggling as they judged the trees by ridiculous standards, he already strongly registered the void next to him, the coldness of his empty hand. Xie Lian sighed, and comforted himself by knowing that they’d see each other again soon, at the latest in university.
He almost stumbled over a step as the long hem of his pants fell over his ankle. San Lang had put him into the smallest of his outfits he could find, worrying that Xie Lian would be too cold in his hospital robes. Xie Lian was quite small, but in the loose, rolled up jeans and cuffed hoodie, his hands only visible by his fingertips, he looked even smaller. The clothes didn’t fit him at all, but he still felt extremely comfortable, bathing in the sensation of being wrapped up in San Lang’s scent and touch from head to toe. At this thought, he couldn’t help but giggle in delight, wrapping his arms around his torso and hopping up the stairs with spring in his step.
During the past two days, the two of them had naturally talked a lot, since there was much to learn and catch up on. However, there were certain things they didn’t inquire about, since they both had the sense to wait until the time was right. These things included, from Xie Lian’s side: the story behind San Lang’s eyepatch, and from San Lang’s side, the scar around Xie Lian’s neck. Family matters were omitted as well; both of them felt like these were topics to be properly adressed at a later time. This decision didn’t come from awkward beating-around-the-bush, but rather purely through gentle, mutual understanding. This perfect symbiosis, such natural comprehension of each other without having to say a single word, was completely novel to Xie Lian, and he couldn’t quite believe that it was really real.
This didn’t mean that there was a lack of conversation, in the contrary; Xie Lian could have listened for hours to the vivid and excited voice of San Lang as he told him all he knew about his favorite Death Metal bands, his inspirations and what he felt when he created music. Xie Lian only learned what he had already experienced to the fullest extent: That San Lang poured his entire being, all his emotions, heart and soul into singing. It was this which had touched Xie Lian back then, and touched him again all over. Looking at San Lang speak with a sparkle in his eye, Xie Lian’s heart became so incredibly warm, it overflowed, making him melt into a puddle of admiration and affection.
Xie Lian himself was adamant about learning more about Death Metal, and thus, the both of them had spent several hours listening to various artists, exchanging opinions, getting into passionate (but always gentle) discussions, ending up dancing and jumping all over the room, screaming and shouting without restraint, and finally collapsing together in a sweaty mess onto the couch, breaking out into laughter in each others arms.
In more quiet moments, they talked about their struggles in universities which they could all too well sympathize with. They talked about their majors, Xie Lian being very interested in Psychology. San Lang didn’t dive into it too deeply, and when Xie Lian mentioned that he was taking ballet classes, San Lang was oddly silent… but Xie Lian didn’t think too much of it. The conversation drifted from here to there, both languid as they lazed on the couch, the bed, sometimes even the floor… they talked about their favorite foods, childhood dreams, favorite movies, dream travel destinations… it wasn’t significant talk, but it still felt like their spirits intertwined as they spoke, growing into each other and intertwining as they got to know each other. It was so soothing, so comforting, just talking and feeling perceived by another person as their warmth seeped into your body and heart… Xie Lian couldn’t imagine it to ever end.
Xie Lian forcefully shook his head, as he feared that he might really trip if his eyes didn’t focus on the steps in front of him. He could revisit the past two days in his imagination after he got home, he reassured himself.
After walking up the last flight of stairs, he then turned the corner… and immediately froze in dismay. Of course it was entirely to be expected, but nevertheless, at the sight of the person standing and waiting there in front of his apartment door, Xie Lian felt a petrifying sense of doom and fear settle over him. His body immediately stopped and wanted to run straight back down the steps he had just come up from, but alas his conscience forced him to face the wrath that was about to befall him.
Shi Qingxuan’s voice was flat, the emotions it carried indiscernible. It rung out like an icy dagger, stabbing right into Xie Lian’s guilty heart. Xie Lian flinched at her words, sensing the brooding storm just barely contained behind them. He forced himself to raise his head and look at her, eyes glassy and stance defensive. Shi Qingxuan’s face was as flat and pale as a piece of paper, eyes clouded… just the corners of her mouth trembled ever so slightly. The sight made Xie Lian’s heart drop; from this and her silence, he could tell… she was beyond furious. After several ice-cold seconds of nobody moving, Shi Qingxuan finally spoke, her voice low and hoarse:
„Is this all our friendship means to you, Xie Lian? Breaking your promises and making me worry over and over again? Running off to god knows where with god knows who, without even bothering to think about me? Now that you have him, am I suddenly worthless…? Do you not know… that all this time that you only had me… I only had you too?“
As Xie Lian listened to Shi Qingxuan’s voice gradually getting softer and choked up with tears, his hands started to shake with horror, and deep within his chest, he felt a cutting pain. His blood went cold with guilt and regret… that wasn’t it at all!!
Frantically, he stepped closer to Shi Qingxuan, desperate to assure her that what she said wasn’t the case.
„I’m sorry!!!“, Xie Lian cried with all the emphasis he could muster. „Shi Qingxuan, I am not worthy of being your friend… it wasn’t my intention to hurt you, yet I did. It’s me who’s worthless! Please, if you have it in your heart to forgive me, won’t you listen to me? Please, please Shi Qingxuan, come inside…“ At the end, his tone was begging, desperate that his best friend give him another chance.
Shi Qingxuan’s eyes were lined with red, probably just seconds before spilling over with tears. She swallowed, then looked away; but she didn’t leave, instead she stepped away so Xie Lian could unlock the door. Inwardly, relief swept over Xie Lian at this; but he knew that he wasn’t out of the woods quite yet. It would some effort to get Shi Qingxuan to trust him again.
He immediately stumbled forward, unlocked the door with fumbling hands and opened it wide to let Shi Qingxuan enter before going in behind her. Shi Qingxuan headed straight for the kitchen table, not even bothering to take off her winter coat, then sat in her usual seat in silence. Xie Lian approached her cold back slowly, a knot in his stomach making him painfully aware of the wrong he had caused. He breathed in and out deeply, trying to settle his thoughts and approach this matter calmly. He tried to stall for time by making tea, but he couldn’t set a foot past Shi Qingxuan before she hissed: „Don’t bother. Just sit and talk“. Xie Lian swallowed hard, then turned to the table and did as he was told.
Shi Qingxuan sat back in her chair, arms crossed, glaring at Xie Lian with intimidating intensity. Xie Lian felt the burn of her stare on his face, but had nowhere to hide… so he started speaking.
„Shi Qingxuan… I-I’m sorry. All these years, all your effort, dedication and loyalty to our friendship, I’ve never taken anything for granted. And more than anything, I never wanted to be ungrateful for everything you’ve done for me… and now this… I… I don’t know. I think I’ve lost my mind. I can’t really explain it… I don’t feel like myself, and yet I feel more alive than at any other time of my life. There’s this feeling, this indescribable burn that makes me completely lose control, that makes me abandon all rational thought. It all started with that cassette. At that time, it was like the world shifted, a fire started, a switch flipped… I… I…“ Xie Lian helplessly stumbled over his words as he tried to grasp these ungraspable feelings, express what was unexpressable. His gaze wavered. Shi Qingxuan didn’t move.
When Xie Lian finally continued, his voice was smaller. „A few weeks ago you asked me, how far I would go for CALAMITY…“ Xie Lian finally looked directly at Shi Qingxuan and breathlessly concluded: „…and I guess this is my answer. I would do anything.“
At these words, Shi Qingxuan’s tense face seemed to deflate and fall into itself. She silently nodded, eyes dull and dark, then she pushed her chair back and moved to stand up.
„But—“ Xie Lian’s breaking voice made her halt in her movement.
„…hurting my best friend is not part of it. I would rather perish than to make Shi Qingxuan, the one who pours wine, the most caring and loving being on this earth, suffer at my cost. Shi Qingxuan, without you, I wouldn’t exist today. Both you and San Lan— I mean CALAMITY have saved my life multiple times, and I can’t pick one over the other. But I need to do it right.“
At these words, Xie Lian stood up himself and looked at Shi Qingxuan with a firm and determined, yet hopeful gaze.
„Shi Qingxuan, I know you have lost faith in my promises, but as my best friend, confidant and the person who knows everything about me, I ask you to trust me just one last time. I won’t break my promises ever again, or else I hope a thousand misfortunes fall upon me. Although I don’t deserve it… please forgive me.“
With this last prayer, Xie Lian clenched his fists and shut his eyes, heart beating out of his chest, awaiting his final judgement.
The room was silent. The seconds trickled by, and in the excruciating stillness, fear settled over Xie Lian’s mind that his friend might actually not respond, and leave him standing there in his apartment, all alone. Shi Qingxuan might finally not forgive him anymore.
Just as his knees were about to give in, Xie Lian suddenly felt the crisp clap of something against the top of his head, making him release his pent-up breath and open his eyes in surprise. What filled his vision was a distorted face from which tears streamed incessantly, nose red and shiny, shoulders bobbing up and down with choked sobs. Shi Qingxuan sniffled as she raised her hand and slapped Xie Lian’s head again, and again and again.
„Xie Lian, you idiot!!!!! You big idiot!!! Why would you perish?? Why would a thousand misfortunes befall you??! Ugh aaaaahhh I was so worried aaaaahhhh~~“ Finally, Shi Qingxuan hurled herself at Xie Lian and squeezed him as tight as she could, sobbing and crying into his shoulder.
Xie Lian could first only stand in shock, then, tears of relief, guilt and thankfulness spilled over from his own eyes. The both of them collapsed into a crying mess on the floor, and Xie Lian could only apologize over and over again, until many minutes later, they finally scraped themselves off the ground and opened a bottle of red wine. Both their eyes were so swollen they could barely see, but at the sight of one another, they couldn’t help but chuckle and laugh. Xie Lian could only thank the stars that he was blessed with such a wonderful friend.
Finally, they sat down at the table, CALAMITY playing in the background and glass of wine in each their hands. Shi Qingxuan put on a pouting face as she spoke: „You know, you really made the worst possible exit from the hospital in history; when you weren’t back after the sun had set, literally everybody panicked and went outside to look for you. I swear the park was on complete lockdown, they were even about to call the police! Safe to say I had a complete mental breakdown. Thank god He Xuan came in time to prevent me from losing my mind, hahaha.“
Xie Lian felt his chest constrict at this, and he didn’t manage to laugh. He told himself that he had to repent in front of each doctor and nurse for leaving like that. How shocked they must have been, he thought.
Shi Qingxuan talked on about that night, how the hospital was in an uproar, but despite all her stories and lament… while Xie Lian felt guilty, he couldn’t bring himself to regret his actions. Meeting San Lang, leaving and spending two whole days alone with him was the most wonderful thing he’d ever experienced. Hopefully from now on, he wouldn’t have to abandon one of his two precious people for the other.
Shi Qingxuan rambled on: „Really, I mean I knew what was going on when I found the bouquet of white flowers on that bench, and when He Xuan told me the reason why you probably left, all the dots connected. I can’t believe the lead singer of CALAMITY has been your secret admirer for over two years!!! That’s crazy!! So tell me!“
Xie Lian blinked at Shi Qingxuan in confusion. „T-tell you? What?“
Shi Qingxuan rolled her eyes in exasperation. „What he’s like, of course!! Come on, spill the tea! I mean I came here for an apology, but I’m way more interested in the juicy stories. Go on, don’t be shy!“ Shi Qingxuan looked at her friend full of anticipation, head cradled between her hands propped up on her elbows. Being blinded by the sparkles in her eyes, Xie Lian had to avert his gaze and stammered: „W-what, there’s nothing juicy, nothing at all! W-w-what are you talking about, juicy?? Spill? There was nothing like that!!!“ On Xie Lian’s cheeks, pinkness was tragically spreading, speaking more words than his now frantic mouth could ever.
Shi Qingxuan’s jaw fell open. Whatever she thought had happened… that wasn’t… I mean… so fast???? Eyes wide with horror, she stammered back: „Xie Lian… y-you mean to tell me… you met the guy of your dreams, almost died because you kissed him, spend a week in the hospital in risk of cardiac arrest, then followed him home without a second thought and y-you guys… f… k… ed????? I— I mean… do you not see a problem with this??? You—“ As Shi Qingxuan stuttered in disbelief, she fell silent when she found not a single trace of shame or self-reflection on Xie Lian’s open and innocent-looking face. She choked and facepalmed. Why did she even bother. „Xie Lian, holy shit… you’re either the most straight-forward or the most clueless person when it comes to dating… either way, you’re a lost cause. I give up.“ Shi Qingxuan leaned back in her chair with a sigh, leaving Xie Lian stunned. He felt a bit insulted, and wanted to defend himself.
„S-San Lang is a wonderful person, you said it yourself: He gave me flowers for over two continuous years, and he saved my life! There was no reason not to trust him“, Xie Lian rebutted with a pout. Shi Qingxuan stared back at him with exasperation.
„Xie Lian, you only heard his voice over cassette, and what, saw him twice after that?? How does that constitute as trustworthiness??!“
But Xie Lian stubbornly crossed his arms and responded firmly: „Shi Qingxuan, sometimes bonds aren’t something that are formed with time, but are designed by fate, clear from the very first moment you meet. Sometimes words aren’t needed to communicate feelings so strong, your very heart binds itself to that person. Sometimes… another person can become home, even though everything you ever knew disintegrates before them. Isn’t this absurdity, irrationality, absolute foolishness, what people call love?“
Shi Qingxuan opened her mouth to answer, but found herself speechless. Part of her still was sure that Xie Lian was rushing into something blindly, but another part of her couldn’t help but be convinced at his words. Love was foolish… thinking of her own situation, having her apartment suddenly occupied by an additional person and letting herself completely depend on them… it didn’t align with her code of ethics at all, yet here she was. Acting like this, could she really blame Xie Lian? It was so inexplicable, yet felt so natural, as if two pieces of a puzzle finally found themselves.
Shi Qingxuan sunk her head, suddenly lost in thought. Xie Lian didn’t mean to speak any profound words, and lightened up the atmosphere again by pouring more wine and turning up the music. Safe to say, it worked: Painting a by now familiar scene, the two ended up laughing and dancing deep into the night.
The next day, university started again.
—-TO BE CONTINUED—-