The question was almost accusatory.
Tong Ning, also feeling that it was rude to point, dropped his hand, asking simply, “Are you already together”
It was a scene that Tang Suoyan had hoped to avoid.
Of the three of them, there was not one who would be spared any awkwardness.
But since Tong Ning had come back, it wasn’t likely that he would leave that easily.
Tang Suoyan sighed.
He stood up and said, “Let’s talk inside.”
He went into the study first.
Tong Ning stayed in place, staring at Tao Xiaodong.
His breathing was rhythmic, and his form never shifted once under the attention.
Tang Suoyan called him again.
Tong Ning followed him in.
Tang Suoyan shut the door, then told the other, “Sit.”
He himself remained standing, leaning against the windowsill.
“If you have anything to say, say it here.”
Tong Ning must have a purpose for having sought him out so many times.
Tang Suoyan could hazard a guess, so he hadn’t wanted to talk.
Tong Ning’s temper was no scoffing matter.
Once upon a time, Tang Suoyan, hoping to understand his emotions, had given him time, called him up hoping to talk, yet was rebuffed by Tong Ning.
But now Tang Suoyan wanted to have Tong Ning get it all out.
“Are you together” Tong Ning sat to one side, a multitude of emotions churning in the gaze that he trained on Tang Suoyan.
Tang Suoyan spoke the truth for what it was.
“No” Tong Ning’s chortle had a sharp edge to it.
“You, really Would you bring someone home when you’re not yet together”
“If I said that there’s nothing, then there’s nothing.” With relative composure, Tang Suoyan said, “You know that I don’t lie.”
“How far have you gone” The smile on Tong Ning’s face was sardonic still.
“Have you slept—”
Tang Suoyan cut into his words with an icy “Tong Ning.”
“What’s there that can’t be said” Tong Ning’s gaze was penetrating.
He insisted on the question, “Because I’m not willing, you’ve gone to find someone willing to do it with you Is that what this is”
His words were vicious.
Tang Suoyan’s brows furrowed.
“Don’t be unreasonable.”
“I wondered why you were turning me away; I thought that you were pitching a fit.” Tong Ning’s eyes, fixed on Tang Suoyan, had started to redden slightly.
“Did you not guess that I’d come today Did you bring him over on purpose for me to see”
Tong Ning did lose control of his emotions today.
He felt like he couldn’t get a grasp on the present Tang Suoyan; his gaze and expression were unfamiliar to Tong Ning.
Tong Ning rubbed his knuckles, and the lump of his throat rolled.
“What is he to you that you’d allow him to sleep here”
It was hard to miss that Tong Ning was slightly overwrought now.
During the many years of their rocky relationship, it had always been just the two of them.
But now Tao Xiaodong had suddenly come barging into the picture, even openly admitting his interest in Dr.
Never had there been a precedent and increasingly, Tong Ning found himself out of his depth.
Tang Suoyan propped his elbows on the windowsill behind him.
With him standing and Tong Ning sitting, in spite of the distance, the height difference set him in a subtly superior position.
Tong Ning had a very fair complexion, thus the tail of his eyes always tinged slightly red whenever he got agitated, playing up his emotions and endearing others to him.
Tang Suoyan wouldn’t really stand his ground in their past arguments; he was used to conceding the point.
But Tang Suoyan now, facing the red rimming his eyes, still uttered harsh words difficult for Tong Ning to take.
“Xiaodong has always treated you with respect, addressing you as ‘Dr.
Never once has he disparaged you.
Reflect on it yourself, whether what you just said was uncalled for.”
“You think that what I said is unpleasant” Tong Ning scoffed, his eyelashes trembling finely.
“Which part upset you Are you going to defend him like this”
“Tong Ning.” Tang Suoyan stopped him.
“If you’ve anything to say, direct your hostility at me.
Don’t just lash out at whoever you see.
At this, Tong Ning instantly stood up, incredulous.
“…What did you say”
“You should act your age.” Tang Suoyan said, “You can’t always do whatever you want to do, you live too selfishly.”
When Tong Ning came back in, Tang Suoyan didn’t expect—not even at the start—that he would speak so freely.
Tang Suoyan didn’t want him to make a scene here.
Tao Xiaodong was still sleeping on the couch outside.
Tong Ning never held himself back when he got worked up, and it was probable that Tao Xiaodong wouldn’t say anything even if caught in the fallout.
“Are you admonishing me” asked Tong Ning.
Tang Suoyan said, “I’m telling you.”
“I don’t need it, I won’t hear for it, not when it’s because of someone else,” Being given his way all this while had pandered to Tong Ning’s pride.
The reproach was honestly a tough pill to swallow.
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak.
He didn’t say anything at all.
With some time to compose himself, Tong Ning sat back down.
His head was bowed, and when he next spoke, his words weren’t as hostile as before.
When he raised his head to look at Tang Suoyan this time, he merely asked, “What do you truly feel”
Tong Ning said, “With me.”
Tang Suoyan answered, “Separated.”
Tong Ning blinked.
Tang Suoyan, “Getting to know each other.”
“And after that” Tong Ning asked.
Tang Suoyan, “If it works out, we’ll get together.”
Tang Suoyan pithily answered him in three sentences, each one direct, not leaving the slightest grounds for doubt.
Tong Ning’s grip tightened around the armrest, then he abruptly started to laugh.
His laughter tapered off.
“I said I needed time… and you were so eager to move on”
“I also said that I wouldn’t be giving you any this time.”
In actuality, all that should be said was already said before they broke up.
Tang Suoyan had said that this was it and he meant it, yet Tong Ning never took it to heart.
Tang Suoyan’s words had never carried weight with him.
“Is it the lack of sex” Tong Ning measured Tang Suoyan, doubtful.
“Were you so anxious to find someone else because I wouldn’t let you do it with me Is that why you’ve resolved to break up this time”
Tang Suoyan’s face stormed over.
It has nothing to do with how I feel.
It has never been that way with both you and Xiaodong.
You were the one who proposed ending it.
You said that you were exhausted.
Do you remember”
“But I said I wanted time.” Tong Ning was beginning to fray at the edges.
There was no way to communicate with him like this; he had latched onto his own point and was unable to compute anything else.
He asked Tang Suoyan, “What am I to you You used to claim that you love me, but look how fast you’ve forgotten.”
Tang Suoyan was silent for a moment before volleying back, “And what am I to you”
Before, Tang Suoyan had been in love at first sight with the brilliant underclassman, falling hard with just a look.
Then, he pursued him, and after his advances were accepted they got together.
The first few years were a charming story, and if it ended there it would have been a dream.
At that time, it was nigh impossible to imagine that this would be how their story ended, many years later.
Then, after returning from abroad, only the bare bones of their love remained.
When breaking up and Tong Ning told him that he was exhausted, for their life together was like an empty shell, Tang Suoyan was no less exhausted than him.
“Actually, I’ve never been able to understand you.
Which aspect were you dissatisfied with, exactly”
Tong Ning kept silent.
“You were often unable to hide the revulsion in your eyes.”
“That’s not true,” Tong Ning denied at once.
Tang Suoyan waved it off, not fighting with him on this.
“I regret that you feel our relationship was torturous, I do.
Just now you asked what you are to me.”
Tang Suoyan mused, “Leaving aside the unhappy portions, I’m thankful for our years together.
You shared the prime of your life with me and I with you.
It was the first relationship for both of us.
We were both inexperienced.
Maybe we had taken the wrong path from the very start.”
The timbre of his voice was low and deep.
Tong Ning used to really like that; it was steadying, wrapping one in a sense of security.
“Since staying with me makes you unhappy, then find someone right for you, enjoy life with them.” Tang Suoyan told him, “I wish you happiness.”
He spoke from his heart, but Tong Ning was too emotional now to hear a word of it.
He was accustomed to Tang Suoyan always being where he had left him, for him to return to, and it was unacceptable to him now that Tang Suoyan was gone.
Tong Ning could be stubborn at times; the thought that Tang Suoyan was really about to leave had never struck him as real.
He shook his head at Tang Suoyan, unwilling to accept his words.
“Are you chasing me out”
Tang Suoyan had finished saying his piece, and he didn’t say anything more now either.
Tong Ning fixed a look on him for a long time, then abruptly jerked his head away.
His voice had turned rough.
“…Easy for you, surely.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak, and Tong Ning didn’t sit back down.
By the time he emerged from the study, Tao Xiaodong had flipped over in his sleep.
Tong Ning’s eyes were still reddened.
He looked at Tao Xiaodong’s back, disliking this scene yet was unable to muster any heartfelt hatred towards Tao Xiaodong.
Tang Suoyan sent him to the door; Tong Ning left after wearing his shoes.
Before the door shut, he measured Tang Suoyan again.
His emotions were so complex that they almost overflowed from his gaze.
Neither said goodbye.
Tong Ning entered the elevator, and Tang Suoyan shut the door.
After that, he sat on the sofa and turned on a wall lamp.
Tao Xiaodong was sleeping on the other side, while Tang Suoyan silently stared into space.
A moment passed, and then Tao Xiaodong suddenly sat up.
Tang Suoyan asked, “Not going to keep up the act”
Chastened, Tao Xiaodong scratched his ear.
“I can’t… hold it in anymore.”
He had too much to drink; he had long wanted to use the bathroom.
“Go ahead.” Tang Suoyan smiled faintly.
Tao Xiaodong went to the bathroom, also splashing water over his face as he washed his hands.
He didn’t dry his face with a towel after that but scrubbed his hands over his face, then wiped his hands dry and came out.
Enough time had elapsed for Tao Xiaodong to have sobered up.
Tang Suoyan was still in the same position as before.
Tao Xiaodong went over to sit next to him, barely any distance between them.
Tang Suoyan asked him when did he awaken.
Tao Xiaodong said since Dr.
Tong came in.
Tang Suoyan hummed and said that he had guessed it.
Their exchange just now was one that Tao Xiaodong hadn’t wanted to hear, but the noise insulation of the study wasn’t the best, so he ended up hearing it anyway.
Besides a few soft-spoken sentences, whether he had wanted to or not, he had heard the rest of it crystal clear.
Tao Xiaodong bumped Tang Suoyan’s leg, asking him, “Are you feeling sad”
Tang Suoyan nodded truthfully.
There was nothing to hide here.
That was a thirteen-year relationship that Tang Suoyan was personally dotting a full-stop behind, again and again.
No matter how wilful Tong Ning was, he was still someone Tang Suoyan had pampered for many years, wherein many actions and words had turned into habit.
Tao Xiaodong’s face was still damp; he quietly waited for it to dry.
Once it did, seeming to think of something, he crouched down in front of Tang Suoyan with a knee to the ground, neither far from nor near to Tang Suoyan.
He looked up at his face, pressed a bit closer, asking on purpose, “Dr.
Tong… doesn’t let you do it with him”
Tang Suoyan met his eyes, cupping his face and gently pushing it away, resigned.
“I was afraid you’ll hear that.”
“Why not” Tao Xiaodong let himself be manoeuvred to the ground, sitting with his legs bent, smiling as he asked, “Why can’t I hear that Are your skills not quite up to par”
Tang Suoyan turned his face away, restraining his smile.
“I can do it,” said Tao Xiaodong, then, feeling that he was being too blunt, backtracked, “I don’t mean anything by that, I’m just saying.”
“What can you do” Tang Suoyan asked him.
Not getting into it, Tao Xiaodong chuckled lowly.
“Oh, I can do plenty.”
Tao Xiaodong had never been someone who took himself seriously; when relaxed, he was always able to snap back with snark.
Also that he wanted to distract Tang Suoyan today, which struck him with an impulse to coax him into a better mood.
Leaning closer, he flashed a cocksure grin, tilted his head up, and asked, “Just now I heard you say that we’ll get together if it works out, yeah Or did I catch you wrongly”
“You did,” said Tang Suoyan.
“What did you say, then” Tao Xiaodong, aware that he was only jesting, rolled with it.
Tang Suoyan, “I don’t remember.”
“We’ll just go with what I heard in that case.” Tao Xiaodong rested his hand on his own knee, drawing circles, entreating, “Dr.
Tang, consider me I can work magic with my hands out in the world to bring home the bacon; back home, too, you’ll see how good I am with my hands.”
Midway, Tang Suoyan gazed at him, eyes at half-mast.
“What is there for you to do with your hands at home”
“Didn’t I say” Tao Xiaodong clicked his tongue.
“I can do plenty.“
The more was said the crasser the conversation became.
Tang Suoyan turned his face away, smiling, not continuing to engage him.
He stood up and reached his lowered hand towards Tao Xiaodong; Tao Xiaodong took his hand and pulled himself up as well.
Once on his feet, without a skipped beat, he wrapped his arms around Tang Suoyan.
“…Don’t be sad.” Their chests were pressed together.
Tao Xiaodong’s body was nice and toasty from having laid down for so long, his entire being emanating soothing warmth.
And Tang Suoyan, with an arm looped askew over his shoulder, was enveloped in his embrace.
Tao Xiaodong held him tightly, rubbing circles into his back, breathing into his ear.
I also feel bad about you and Dr.
Tong, but I have no way of saying that I hope you can make up anymore.
If I did, I’d be lying.”
His voice was quiet and calm.
“So, don’t be sad.
If all works out and we really get together, I won’t let you regret it.
While his parents would occasionally hug him and pat him on the back when he was young, since transitioning into adulthood, Tang Suoyan had not been comforted with a hug.
Tang Suoyan had always been a fighter; he never really needed anyone to mollycoddle him as so.
Now, Tao Xiaodong’s embrace both amused him and seared his heart.
He didn’t speak.
After what was roughly three minutes, he then said with mirth in his voice, “It’s a bit strange to be hugged like this.”
“What do you propose” Tao Xiaodong didn’t move his hands.
“If I could start over, I wouldn’t hug you like this, my arms are getting sore.”
“You could have put them down.” Tang Suoyan’s laughter was muted.
“You weren’t moving and you weren’t speaking; it stuck me in an awkward spot over here.” Tao Xiaodong softly scraped his thumb over Tang Suoyan’s clothes.
“If you didn’t say anything and I just let go, wouldn’t it be hard to play it off after that”
“How do you expect me to play it off now, then” asked Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I haven’t a clue, either.”
This guy was a straight-up comedian.
Tang Suoyan had long been snapped out of his bad mood and now could barely restrain his laughter.
Touched by Tao Xiaodong’s thoughtfulness, and intrigued by the novelty of what he said.
Tang Suoyan raised his hand and set it on the small of his back, then asked him, “How about this Still awkward”
“Much better.” Tao Xiaodong could breathe in Tang Suoyan’s scent from this position, it was crisp and comforting, and he secretly snuck in another inhale before releasing Tang Suoyan.
Having spontaneously hugged it out for that long, the air was now crackling with indescribable heat.
It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, a feat that Tao Xiaodong doubted he could replicate for the life of him.
Tang Suoyan cut fruits for him, and Tao Xiaodong dutifully polished off the plate.
“I asked my friend to bake a cake.
He’s a pastry chef that specialises in desserts.” Tao Xiaodong told Tang Suoyan after finishing his fruits, “But since there’s already one here, shall we eat it”
Tang Suoyan studied him then shook his head, saying, “We’ll eat yours.”
“But we shouldn’t waste this one either, let’s just have it.” Tao Xiaodong smiled.
“It’s all cake anyway no matter who buys it.
When my friend is done his I’ll get him to send it over and we can have that, too.”
Tang Suoyan said all right.
The cake that Tong Ning purchased was small, and between them, they made quick work of it.
They had planned to go out for dinner at first, but after all the fuss, they were a bit too drained to go out.
Besides, Tao Xiaodong didn’t want to spoil the mood.
This type of intimate setting was different from the privacy afforded by a private room in a restaurant or the office.
There was truly no one around them, nor any worry of sudden intrusions.
Even if Tong Ning had come in before.
Truth be told, at that time, he had only intended to check if the passcode was changed, and came in as an afterthought when the door did open.
Tang Suoyan had never considered changing the passcode as he hadn’t seen the need.
Few knew his passcode, and it had never changed from the day that he moved in.
His parents knew, Chen Lin as well.
No one would come in without informing him first, and even his parents would only let themselves in when he wasn’t around.
Previously when Tong Ning came by to get his stuff, he had also waited outside instead of letting himself in.
It just never crossed his mind.
“The passcode is 816400.
‘t_ng’ on the keypad, and two zeros after.” Tang Suoyan said to Tao Xiaodong, “You can let yourself in next time.”
Tang Suoyan’s and Tong Ning’s surnames had those alphabets in common.
Tang Suoyan asked, “Do you mind If you do, give me some time, I’ll change to a new one.”
Tao Xiaodong immediately shook his head.
“That’s too much trouble.
It’s just a number, doesn’t matter to me anyway.”
Tang Suoyan said, “I’d better change it still.”
Tao Xiaodong stopped him.
“If you do your parents would have to memorise a new number, it’s more convenient to just keep it.”
It was too trivial an affair, not even worth a mention in Tao Xiaodong’s books.
After the hug, these two men had been unable to look straight at each other.
Their gazes would instantly skit away at every collision, and even when speaking their eyes were averted.
Men in their thirties, folks.
It was such a chaste setting and yet they were still, inexplicably, a bit shy.
“My face feels warm,” said Tao Xiaodong, covering his face.
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Why is that”
“I’m mortified.” Tao Xiaodong raked a hand through his hair.
“What should I do It’s been many, many years since I was last like this.
I feel like a teenager, my heart’s beating like crazy.”
He was exaggerating it slightly; behold, a big ol’ boy acting coy.
“Again Fight fire with fire” Tang Suoyan arched an eyebrow.
“No.” Whatever it was that Tao Xiaodong’s brain had churned up, it wasn’t anything halfway decent.
He ducked his head, completing the thought, then hurriedly repeated, “Oh hell no.”