take this burden - part 19
[ ends of the earth - lord huron ]
They woke to Rou flinging the door open and loudly informing them that there were pancakes downstairs.
‘Jesus, Rou, what if we’d been naked?’
She walked off.
‘Should I be offended?’ He Tian asked.
‘That’s a safe bet.’
They’d shifted slightly as they slept.
Somehow, Felix had acquired the majority of the blanket.
When He Tian didn’t get out of the bed, Mo Guan Shan climbed over him.
He Tian followed him to the bathroom.
Mo Guan Shan said something unintelligible, his mouth full of toothpaste.
Mo Guan Shan spit.
‘Did you bring a toothbrush?’
‘No, I completely spaced. I’m fine until we get home.’
‘You can use mine if you want.’
‘Isn’t that kind of…gross?’
‘Compared to what? Spending the day with un-brushed teeth?’
He Tian had no response.
He took the toothbrush when Mo Guan Shan offered it to him.
Mo Guan Shan sat on the edge of the tub while he cleaned his teeth.
‘Sorry about last night.’
He Tian glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I try not to drink that much on a regular basis. I hope I wasn’t too bad.’
‘What’s the last thing you remember?’ He Tian asked warily.
‘Taking a shower.’
He Tian sighed in intense relief.
‘Shit, did I do something stupid?’ Mo Guan Shan asked.
‘Nope, you just went to sleep.’
‘Are you lying?’
‘Only a little.’
‘No. I like to think that you’d remember that.’
‘I didn’t mean it like-’
‘I know, I’m kidding.’
He Tian spit out the toothpaste and rinsed his mouth out
‘So what’s the plan?’
‘I’m going to get some more of my stuff packed up and get Felix ready. We can head out after breakfast.’
‘Is there anything else you want to do while we’re here? Visit friends?’
Mo Guan Shan considered that for a moment before shaking his head.
‘I’d rather just go home and get settled in.’
He Tian followed him out of the bathroom to help him pack.
‘Home it is, then.’
They ate breakfast and said their goodbyes.
He Tian was surprised when each member of the family hugged him warmly.
‘Come back and visit soon.’ Mo Guan Shan’s mom told them firmly.
‘We will.’ Mo Guan promised.
He Tian tried not to smile.
Mo Guan Shan loaded Felix into the car in his carrier.
He was nothing but a fluffy, ginger, ball of anger and claws.
Mo Guan Shan didn’t ask for the keys this time either.
He relaxed with every mile He Tian put between their car and the city.
‘Sorry about telling my mom that we’re together. She just looked so happy…’
‘It’s ok, really. She wants to know that you’re safe and taken care of. It’s understandable.’
Mo Guan Shan nodded.
‘Yeah, i suppose so. You’re not mad though?’
‘Not at all. Why would I be?’
‘Well…you haven’t been in a relationship for thirteen years and I just barge in and tell my parents that you’re my boyfriend. I don’t imagine anyone would like that.’
‘It doesn’t bother me.’ He Tian assured him.
‘Well, thank you.’
The redhead rolled his eyes with a small smile.
‘Really? Even Christmas?’
‘I…can’t tell if you’re kidding.’
‘I’m not. They seem really nice. I liked them a lot.’
‘Just be careful. They might get attached and we’ll have to get married.’ He teased.
He Tian laughed.
‘I can think of worse fates.’
There was a long pause.
‘I’m going to tell Jian Yi you said that.’
‘Oh lord, please don’t.’
They both smiled.
‘You seem like you’re feeling better.’ He Tian observed.’
‘I am.’ Mo Guan Shan admitted.
They spent the next few hours in silence, listening to music, lost in thought.
Mo Guan Shan broke the silence.
‘So, what’s up with them? Jian Yi and Zhan Zhengxi.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Are they planning on getting married or anything? You said they’d been together for, like, a decade.’
‘Ok, I’m going to tell you something, but if you tell Jian Yi I will murder you.’
‘Jesus, I’m not sure if I even want to know now.’
‘Zhengxi has been planning to propose for over two years but hasn’t come up with the right way to do it.’
‘It’s not like he’s going to say no… right?’
‘Absolutely not. Zhengxi just feels like he has to make it special somehow, after all they’ve been through.’
‘Like what?’ Mo Guan Shan asked.
He Tian winced, realizing he’d said too much.
‘I’m…going to have to let Jian Yi tell you about that. I wouldn’t know about any of it if I hadn’t been around for it.’
‘Are you really going to build it up like that and not tell me?’
He Tian sighed.
He never really talked to anyone so he wasn’t used to censoring himself or keeping secrets.
‘You have to PROMISE me you won’t say anything. Ever.’
He Tian hesitated.
‘Zhengxi cheated on him a few years ago.’
‘It wasn’t a huge thing, he didn’t sleep with her or anything-’
‘Her?’ Mo Guan Shan interrupted.
‘Yeah, that was the issue. Jian Yi is a remarkably understanding, forgiving person. But after so many years of Zhengxi telling him he was straight, it was pretty brutal.’
‘I can imagine.’
‘What ended up happening?’
‘Zhengxi stayed with me for almost three months. The girl, she was a friend of theirs, went to Jian Yi taking full responsibility. She was going through her own shit with some guy and said it was entirely her fault and Zhengxi had turned her down.’
‘And Jian Yi forgave him?’
‘Eventually, yeah. He said they should start fresh and let it go.’
‘What happened with the girl?’
‘She quit her job at The Wolf and none of us have heard from her since.’
‘What’s The Wolf?’
He Tian chuckled.
‘That’s my club. The Black Wolf.’
‘Oh…I’m sorry. I feel like I should know that.’
‘I doubt anyone has said the name. Everyone typically just says He Tian’s place.
‘It’s weird, I just realized I’ve never heard you say your own name before.’
He Tian thought about that.
‘I guess I don’t really say my name often. Does anyone?’
‘You do it.’
‘Say your name?’
‘…Mo Guan Shan.’
‘Ok, now mine.’
‘You want me to say your name?’
He Tian flushed.
‘Well, not now that you’ve made it weird.’
Mo Guan Shan laughed softly.
The man in question smiled, his face still bright red.
He Tian tried to clear his head.
‘Mo Guan Shan.’
‘I like your voice.’
‘Really.’ Mo Guan Shan assured him.
‘No one’s ever told me that.’
‘Something tells me there’s a lot of nice things about you that no one’s ever told you about.’
‘Should I be offended by that?’
‘No. I can tell you what I like about you so far, if you want.’
‘You really don’t have to do that.’ He Tian said, tightening his hands on the steering wheel.’
‘But I really want to.’
‘Ok…’ He was expecting a few generic compliments.
‘I like the way your eyes sparkle when you smile.’
‘And the way you squeeze my hand when you laugh.’
He Tian had no idea how to respond to these facts.
‘And the way you offer me a cigarette when you don’t want to smoke alone.’
‘And the way you look away when you’re embarrassed.’
‘And the way you try not to smile when you’re lying.’
‘And the way you turn someone away when they’re clearly drunk and being an idiot.’
‘The way you’ll sleep on the floor because someone selfishly asks you to stay the night.’
‘You. I like you. I really, really, do.’
‘You shouldn’t.’ He Tian whispered.
‘Why not?’ Mo Guan Shan asked, defiant.
‘I have… a lot of baggage.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘You’ve handled everything I’ve thrown at you so far.’
‘Let me do that for you.’
‘I. Don’t. Care.’
He Tian, you drove me home. I could have stayed there. But I didn’t.’
‘Why didn’t you?’ He Tian asked.
‘If I don’t stick around and, at least, try to figure all this out, I’d hate myself.
‘You’re going to hate me, Mo Guan Shan.’
‘Why don’t you let me figure that out for myself.’
‘I’m not going to-’
‘I’m not asking you to fuck me.’
‘What are you asking me for?’ He Tian asked, honestly confused.
‘Give me a chance. Baggage and all.’
‘Do you want me to be your…’
‘I just want you to be with me while I sleep. Even if it’s on the floor.’
Mo Guan Shan’s confident words didn’t match the way his voice shook.
‘I can do that.’