Tang Suoyan was reading on the couch while Tao Xiaodong was sprawled across his lap, sending out messages.
They had just had sex; Tao Xiaodong’s body would often go limp and pliant for a long time after as he luxuriated in the afterglow.
The washing machine droned constantly, washing the sheets that they had soiled.
Tao Xiaodong’s hips rested across Tang Suoyan’s legs.
The hem of his pyjama top had ridden up, exposing a slim narrow strip.
When Tang Suoyan wasn’t turning the pages of his book, he would stroke the small of his back.
It was rather comfortable lying down like this.
Tao Xiaodong wiggled, adjusting himself to an even more comfortable position.
“Uncomfortable” asked Tang Suoyan.
“I’m good, my bone was iffy just now.” In the earlier position, Tao Xiaodong’s hip bone was jutting awkwardly against Tang Suoyan’s leg.
Tang Suoyan hummed and his finger dipped down the other’s lower back.
“I almost thought that your bottom was hurting.”
“It’s not,” said Tao Xiaodong dismissively.
One would certainly sense something after sex, it was unrealistic to expect otherwise as if they hadn’t done anything at all—it just wasn’t physically possible.
But however it was for others, Tao Xiaodong didn’t feel that sore, honestly.
Tang Suoyan was very attentive in that aspect, therefore no matter how intense their emotions were at that time, there was never a chance of injury around Tang Suoyan.
He spent ample time on preparation, regularly replenishing the lube during sex, also applying cream on him afterwards.
Every single time, without fail.
Slight discomfort was inevitable, but it was far from painful.
That was their favourite way to spend the weekend.
First, a relaxing and pleasurable activity, and then sharing the same space being all lovey-dovey.
Tang Suoyan helped Tao Xiaodong pull down the hem, covering that strip of skin back under cloth, then resting the book on the other’s back to read.
Tao Xiaodong was discussing business with someone over text, in a mood so relaxed that he was humming a little tune.
After that, he flipped over and sat up, telling Tang Suoyan, “Yan ge, I might have to go on a trip again next week.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t even lift his head, gaze never deviating from his book, yet returned without a single missed beat, “Permission not granted.”
Tao Xiaodong laughed.
“Please I’ll be back in a week.”
He’d been away for more than twenty days, just shy of a month, and wanted to traipse off so soon after coming back.
Still not lifting his head, Tang Suoyan seemed closed off to negotiation.
Tang Suoyan had never barred him from actually going; they were both working professionals, each busy with their own commitments.
The refusal to let him go was just lip service to express disapproval—and was, in fact in point, being whiny.
It proved super effective against Tao Xiaodong, who immediately melted, winding an arm around his middle, coaxing him with a smile, “Just one week, I’ll be back before you know it.”
Tang Suoyan kept reading and, without looking at him, removed his arm, saying coolly, “Your heart has already trotted off.”
Tao Xiaodong chuckled and pried his book away, pressing a bent knee on Tang Suoyan’s leg.
Tang Suoyan didn’t lift his head, so he lowered his own to look up at him, “My heart hasn’t trotted off with me, it’s tethered at home, always.”
“Who can tie you down,” said Tang Suoyan, still expressionless.
This was him expressing his disapproval of Tao Xiaodong’s long absence during the last trip; Tao Xiaodong was so overjoyed that the tip of his heart felt all tingly, wrapping his arms around the other.
“You, only you.”
Tang Suoyan finally sighed after receiving appeasements for a considerable time, hugging the other and burying his face into the shoulder, inhaling.
“There will be nothing to look forward to after work.”
Perhaps it was feelings stirred from the post-coital haze, but he was practically whining at that point, causing Tao Xiaodong’s mental state to crumble.
Screw going out to earn money, all he wanted was to stay home with Yan ge.
Their relationship had passed the one-year mark.
Perhaps attributable to their age, this passage of time didn’t stir any major emotional upheaval in them beyond the initial clinginess.
Normally, passions ran the highest during the honeymoon phase right after getting together, thereafter fading in intensity.
Given the length of time that had passed, by right, the honeymoon phase should have been over, but their relationship wasn’t much different now from when it started.
It was, mayhaps, even more intense than back then.
Tao Xiaodong’s previous trip lasted more than three weeks, between which, they had even had phone sex once after Tang Suoyan admitted in a low voice that “I miss you”.
A long pause followed that, not a word was wasted on anything else, their emotions filling the space.
When it came to business trips, one was reluctant to go and the other was reluctant to let him go.
Tao Xiaodong rolled over, lying on Tang Suoyan’s legs, asking tentatively, “Should I not go, then”
Tang Suoyan didn’t speak, so he said, “I’m not going anymore.”
His words made Tang Suoyan crack into a smile, pinching his tummy.
He couldn’t bar him from going; Tao Xiaodong was a personality out there, sure to stand out in a crowd.
Ambitious and aggressive, he was an indomitable champion in his domain.
They spent the weekend wrapped around each other.
On Monday, they went separate ways, to the studio and to the hospital.
The studio received an express delivery from Tibet yesterday that weighed over fifty kilograms, addressed to Tao Xiaodong.
Someone told him about it the moment he stepped into the studio, so he got out a knife to open the packet and found that it was entirely filled with beef jerky.
Over fifty kilograms of beef jerky, some stored together in vacuum packing while others were packaged individually.
Tao Xiaodong carefully checked the sender.
It was Sang Bu.
Ever since Tao Xiaodong helped Mei Duo to be admitted into a hospital and get in contact with Dr.
Tang, Sang Bu had been sending the occasional deliveries his way.
Tao Xiaodong took ten packets out and distributed the rest to the staff at the studio.
He pulled up his chat with Sang Bu: Did you send me stuff again
It wasn’t yet dawn in Tibet.
Sang Bu, probably asleep still, didn’t respond.
Tang Suoyan had flown to Tibet to personally operate on Mei Duo, Sang Bu’s wife, that year.
After the surgery to stabilise her vision and a round of chemotherapy, she was in good shape.
She had 20/30 visual acuity now, not as good as it used to be but still far beyond expectations.
The shipping fee for this fifty-kilogram delivery must have been astronomical.
Tao Xiaodong sent Sang Bu another message: Stop sending me stuff, it’s too far, you hear me
Sang Bu and Mei Duo were not short on money.
Although they lived as traditional nomads, slightly detached from modern living, herders were actually loaded, merely with nowhere to spend the money.
Cattle and sheep were valuable.
Sang Bu’s yaks were worth close to two million yuan altogether.
Sang Bu came back to him after a while with a voice message, chuckling before saying, “Heh.
Mei Duo roasted it herself and got me to send it over.
I told her that you guys could buy it over there, too, but she insisted on it.”
Tao Xiaodong returned him with a voice message: “Thank Mei Duo for me, then.
You don’t have to send any more stuff, it’s too much.”
Sang Bu went “heh” again and ended it there.
Tao Xiaodong sent a few packs over to his two younger brothers.
Chi Cheng was revising like a man possessed these days, sleeping at two and waking at five every day.
Tao Xiaodong was genuinely worried that he was overtaxing the body, admonishing him every time he caught the boy.
Tao Huainan was also taking his studies much more seriously.
He had to practice speed, for blind people required more time to read and answer the questions than regular people.
Lately, whenever Tao Xiaodong was back, the two boys would be sitting across the table, concentrating on revision.
Even his presence felt like he was disturbing them; the two little ones didn’t really have the time to engage him.
They wouldn’t see much of one another on days that he worked; it was ten by the time the evening self-study classes ended.
Tao Xiaodong left after making a trip back to drop off the beef jerky, fetching Tang Suoyan from work, then heading to the professors’ place to give them some, sharing dinner together as well.
This place was familiar territory for Tao Xiaodong now; he visited even more diligently than Tang Suoyan, even.
At first, when Professor Bai answered the door, she wasn’t aware that Tang Suoyan had also come.
She saw Tao Xiaodong, greeted, “hello, Xiaodong” and then moved to shut the door after welcoming him in.
Tao Xiaodong stopped her.
“Don’t close the door, auntie, Yan ge is here too.”
“Suoyan is also here” Professor Bai was taken aback.
“Doesn’t he have to do overtime”
Smiling, Tao Xiaodong said, “He hasn’t been that busy lately.”
Tang Suoyan came up after parking the car; Tao Xiaodong said, “Your mother almost locked you outside.”
“What did you expect I’m already used to you coming.
But him I’ve to serve like a guest.” Professor Bai took the bags from his hands and said, “I’ll stew you pork ribs for dinner.”
A small table for four, chatting as they ate.
Tao Xiaodong also drank a shot with Professor Tang.
Tao Huainan and Chi Cheng had also visited during Lunar New Year last year, so it was six around the table, an especially lively affair.
The two elders cared dearly for the children.
Their hearts went out to Tao Huainan, and they would guide him by the hand whenever they saw him feeling his way around.
While eating, Professor Bai inquired after Tao Huainan, who Tao Xiaodong informed her was too busy studying to come by.
Professor Bai was curious to know which school Tao Huainan went to.
Tao Xiaodong said that he didn’t let him go elsewhere as the boy wouldn’t take the distance well.
When it came to this, Tao Xiaodong didn’t budge an inch and he never would.
Tao Huainan was unable to leave his Ge in any case.
His brother was his rock; he would go wherever Tao Xiaodong was.
After dinner, the both of them sat around for a while more before leaving.
Tang Suoyan drove as Tao Xiaodong had drunk a bit.
The latter reclined in the front passenger seat as he gazed out of the car.
It was springtime, again.
It wasn’t yet decided whether Tang Suoyan would be leading San Hospital’s medical mission trip this year.
If he was, Tao Xiaodong would go along, but if he wasn’t, Tao Xiaodong definitely wouldn’t either.
“Consultant Chen might be leading it this year,” Tang Suoyan informed him.
“Hm” Tao Xiaodong looked over, “Has it been decided already”
“Not yet, it’ll depend on whether I’m able to clear out time.” Tang Suoyan said, “If he’s leading the trip, you can’t go.”
“Why’s that” That was what Tao Xiaodong was originally planning to do, but since it was being explicitly stated in that manner, he questioned the order anyway.
Tang Suoyan eyed him before smiling, “Consultant Chen is good-looking.”
“How good-looking” Tao Xiaodong, knowing that Tang Suoyan was joking around, grinned.
“More handsome than you That’s impossible.”
“He’s very charismatic.” Tang Suoyan added, “He has also just separated from his boyfriend.”
Tao Xiaodong arched an eyebrow.
“Your use of ‘also’ is rather suggestive.”
It was just friendly banter anyway; Tang Suoyan teased, “He’s in the same boat as I was last year.
I don’t want to see a repeat case of a room card opening the wrong door.”
The mention brought forth that awkward incident to Tao Xiaodong’s mind.
At that time, he was only in his underwear—he and Tang Suoyan had met eyes, both men completely stunned.
“Oh my god, kill me now,” Tao Xiaodong groaned, scrubbing his face.
“Is a glimpse that serious” Tang Suoyan arched an eyebrow.
“I thought you seemed rather composed back then.”
Tao Xiaodong chuckled lowly in amusement, saying, “It’s fine if it’s you.
Besides, I was faking it, as if I could really be composed when I was harbouring designs for you.”
It was only when dwelling on what felt like a recent memory that the realisation of the two years that had gone by sunk in.
At that time, Tao Xiaodong and Tang Suoyan were both putting on fronts, chatting in circles with each other, with guilty consciences and hidden intentions.
Talking about that period softened both their hearts.
The slow progress from acquaintanceship to building familiarity was worth cherishing.
The more time that went by, the lovelier the memory became.
Tao Xiaodong’s car was gathering dust on a side lot in the underground parking.
One car was typically enough for them to get about.
They went up together.
After swiping the elevator card, Tao Xiaodong casually tucked it into his pocket.
Tang Suoyan cast him a look out of his peripheral vision.
The coat was off right after stepping through the door.
As Tao Xiaodong didn’t intend to wear it again the next day, he hung it on the balcony.
Even before going to the bathroom, he shed all his clothes in the living room, the stuff to wash dumped into the washing machine and the rest left on the couch to be folded and placed on the balcony later.
After washing his hands, Tang Suoyan cut some fruits for him, while Tao Xiaodong himself went to take a shower.
He emerged from the shower less than five minutes later.
By now, the pyjamas were not segregated by whose it was; he could use any random set.
The humid air from the shower room clung around Tao Xiaodong.
In pyjamas, he walked over and wrapped his arms around Tang Suoyan, peppering a messy trail of kisses on his neck.
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Where did you leave your elevator card”
Unconcerned, Tao Xiaodong replied, “At the door, I think.”
“Look for it,” said Tang Suoyan.
And so Tao Xiaodong went around looking for it in vain.
Smiling, he returned to check the dining table, then checked the coffee table, coming up empty still.
“How many have you lost” Tang Suoyan tossed the mango skin into the trash, telling him, “If you lose it again, go to the management office to get a replacement yourself.
I had gotten it thrice replaced last time, once more and they’d start to think that my brain is faulty.”
“It’s mine that is faulty.” Unable to find the card, Tao Xiaodong abandoned the search, coming back to hug Tang Suoyan, leaning against his back.
“I broke my brain, Dr.
Tang, treat me”