Tao Xiaodong was now a cloud of gloom, palpably causing the air pressure around him to drop.
People would give him a wide berth where possible, and nobody at the studio spoke to him.
This was, in part, caused by himself—his daily reticence, exacerbated by the pain he felt when he talked, and his single-minded focus on tattooing or sketching when he was at the studio.
The other part of it was because he was being given the cold shoulder; Da Huang was ignoring him and, seeing that the two bosses were at odds, the employees didn’t dare to fool around and provoke them.
The pair of them had always been as close as brothers by birth, and every day in the studio was a barrel of laughs. Da Huang would go “Xiaodong, Xiaodong” endlessly and Tao Xiaodong would redirect anyone who came to him to “go ask Da Huang”.
Now, Da Huang stopped going “Xiaodong” all the time, snubbing him and treating him like thin air.
After Tang Suoyan laid down the rule not to use his eyes so much—working less than five hours a day and taking regular breaks—Tao Xiaodong couldn’t just raze through work, and that made him fidgety, at a loss as to what to do.
Unable to distract himself with work and also unwilling to speak, in the end, all he could do was recline on the sofa with his eyes shut, not sleeping, but not moving either.
With his large mug, Da Huang went around the various floors before sauntering over, sitting down on the couch opposite him, sipping at his tea.
As the water was still steaming, he slowly blew out hot air after every sip.
“Giving meditation a go”
Tao Xiaodong opened his eyes and, seeing him, sat a little straighter.
“Does your mouth still hurt” Da Huang’s eyelids flicked up at him.
“It’s bearable.” Tao Xiaodong instinctively reached up to touch it, but the memory of Tang Suoyan stopping him flashed through his mind, and he dropped his hand.
Da Huang didn’t try to make small talk with him, not sparing him a glance.
After a while, he said, “My wife said that it’s been a while since the last dinner together and invited you over.”
Tao Xiaodong went “un” and was just about to speak when Da Huang cut in.
“I told her to forget it.
This dude is talking ** about ending things with me, he’ll most probably never be back.”
Then, he huffily took a sip of his tea.
Blinking, Tao Xiaodong wound up laughing, swearing under his breath.
“You still have the nerve to swear” Da Huang’s thick brows raised.
“Who do you think you are”
Da Huang was seriously pissed this time, giving him the cold shoulder ever since that last talk.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t have much to say for himself either, so the man wasn’t unjustified in his anger.
Everyone in the studio was busy at work.
There was no one around them at the lounge.
And Tao Xiaodong called “Ge.”
Huang Yida looked at him, and powerlessness gradually swelled in Tao Xiaodong’s eyes, who pointed at them.
It took Huang Yida a couple of seconds to catch on, but as the realisation set in, his eyes slowly widened.
Tao Xiaodong nodded and met his gaze, whispering, “I wasn’t kidding when I asked you to make preparations.
You should be ready when it happens.”
A long moment went by before Huang Yida frowned, an expletive bursting out of him.
“You’re the only one I’ve told.” Tao Xiaodong perched his arms on his legs, hands scrubbing his face.
“I haven’t been a good brother to you.
I also haven’t taken enough care of the business side of things.
But I’ll never tire of doing this; I have loved it half my life and I always will.”
Tao Xiaodong put down his hands, and the powerlessness in his eyes was deeper and more sombre than it was just earlier, his voice also dropping to a low whisper.
“…But I have no choice, Ge.”
A blink and the rims of Da Huang’s eyes had turned red.
He swiftly shifted his gaze away and swore again, then said, “What the ** is wrong with the world.”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t want to tell anyone.
He initially planned to wrap up all loose ends before his sight gave out completely, then leave.
He would eventually become blind and he wouldn’t let anyone know.
What a fine jest that was, a tattoo artist gone blind.
As if Tao Xiaodong was going to let others have the chance to sigh in needless pity and sympathy.
In this line of work, he had always been the most prideful of the lot.
He had started out in tattooing because he believed it could rake in cash.
Over the years, though, he gradually fell in love with it.
He loved tattooing; he couldn’t let go of it.
He had put in so much time and effort into his craft.
He could never have gotten this far if he didn’t truly have the passion for it.
But the blind couldn’t survive here.
No matter how skilled he was, it was impossible for him to tattoo with his eyes shut.
What he could do now was to leave behind as many inspirations as possible, whether it was work that he had done or hadn’t had the chance to do yet.
When the time came, he would release his art for people to grab and use as they pleased, and bow out thereafter.
But he couldn’t hide it from Da Huang.
Even if they dissolved the business, their relationship would remain.
It was just a matter of time before he found out.
That day, Da Huang took ages to digest the information, then heaved a long breath, leaning in.
He told Tao Xiaodong, “Just leave the things you cannot control to fate.
I will see to it that Dong Da Domain never falls, even if you cannot tattoo anymore.
In the future, shove all that talk about good things coming to an end.
It’s too dreary.”
The corners of Tao Xiaodong’s lips ticked up.
He didn’t say anything else to open that can of worms.
Neither of them were in a good mood, and it was not necessary to hash out the details now.
Tao Xiaodong had a former friend who was a little older than him, also a figure with legendary status in the tattoo scene.
Back then, Tao Xiaodong would often do collaborations with him.
He was a real chap, in the pink of health yet suddenly afflicted with hemiplegia, partial paralysis as a result of brain damage, which even affected his speech.
With much rehabilitation, he was now able to walk.
But tattooing was beyond his reach.
For a long time after that, whenever the old crowd of friends gathered, at least ten minutes would be spent in commiseration, and there would always be someone going “such a pity” or “what a twist of fate”.
Tao Xiaodong refused to let those sighs and looks ever be directed at himself.
He refused to let that be his swan song.
He and Tang Suoyan had also, for the time being, reverted to how they used to be.
They went to and fro work together every day.
Tang Suoyan would have a slight smile in his tone and even crack jokes, as though all was normal.
And every day that passed by his side, Tao Xiaodong would calm down further.
Tang had firm principles and a heart of gold.
While the doctor would speak to him with a smile, Tao Xiaodong knew that he was still upset at him.
He could wrap his arms around Tao Xiaodong and pat his back and softly comfort him, but he didn’t kiss him and he didn’t come back to sleep with him.
The two men were close and yet, also, not close enough.
Translated on ninetysevenkoi.wordpress
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Tao Xiaodong eyed the scab on the corner of his mouth in front of the mirror.
Tang Suoyan, who had come in to retrieve something, asked him, “Is it hurting”
“Not really, I’m just taking a look,” Tao Xiaodong said with his eyes on the mirror.
“Don’t keep thinking about it, stop obsessing,” said Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong went “mm” and followed him out of the room.
“Go and take your medicine.” Tang Suoyan moved a chair to change a fluorescent light at the entryway.
The lightbulb was old and had dimmed slightly.
He had purchased twenty replacements yesterday to change all the lights around the apartment.
Tao Xiaodong also moved a chair over, silently starting from the other end of the living room.
Tang Suoyan didn’t stop him or dissuade him from helping, simply tilting his head and tearing the black tape around the cord, checking with him, “Have you taken your medicine”
Tao Xiaodong said that he had.
“Mn,” Tang Suoyan hummed, and they each got down to replacing the lightbulbs.
What kind of medicine could there be for this condition He took vitamin A, DHA, and lutein pills, but it was all placebo effect in his opinion.
Tao Huainan took them as well, but his condition showed no visible improvements over the years.
However, since Tang Suoyan told him to take them, Tao Xiaodong still took them without complaint.
Told him to do eye exercises, and he obediently learned how to do them.
Made an appointment with a friend to do acupuncture next month, and Tao Xiaodong would attend punctually as well.
Whatever Tang Suoyan told him to do, he’d nod with ready swiftness.
Tao Xiaodong, more than anyone, hoped that these would help.
Like a tree growing on the edge of a cliff, he hoped that he could become lighter, and even lighter, and that way the tree would have to endure a little less weight.
Tao Xiaodong feared that Tang Suoyan would one day become exhausted and suffocate under his weight.
The balcony window was open, and Tao Xiaodong was currently facing away from that open window.
After replacing a lightbulb, Tang Suoyan went over to close the window.
As he walked past him, Tao Xiaodong looked down and asked, “What’s wrong”
Tang Suoyan chuckled.
“What are you so nervous about I’m just closing the window.”
“Oh.” Tao Xiaodong looked at him, then continued changing the bulb.
He said, “You should have said, I could also have done that.”
Tang Suoyan closed the window and came back.
When he passed by the other, he gently patted his leg, saying, “Relax.”
Tao Xiaodong believed that he was already much more relaxed than he was in the previous days.
But he was just like a cautious little child.
After lunch, Tang Suoyan watched him wash some fruits, prepare a plate of fruits, and sit next to him and start eating them, entirely of his own volition.
Normally, he didn’t really make it a point to eat fruits; if he did, it was more often than not because Tang Suoyan had cut them for him, otherwise it would slip his mind.
Now, knowing that his eyesight was deteriorating, he made sure to eat a salad with every meal, even remembering without any prompting to have a serving of fruits after that.
Tang Suoyan watched him swallow another slice of apple, then suddenly looked away, collecting himself, only turning back a long time later.
He took a fortifying breath and cleared his throat before speaking.
“Good boy.” He smiled.
In the past, Tao Xiaodong would instantly go “christ” with a smile.
It was embarrassing to hear that when he was already in his thirties.
Now, he simply smiled and didn’t say a thing.
Tang Suoyan caressed his face.
After finishing the fruits, Tao Xiaodong went to wash the plate, then came back to sit silently on the other side of the couch, mind laden with thoughts.
He was often like this, lately.
Tang Suoyan told him, “I’ve to attend a meeting in the afternoon.
Take a nap
Tao Xiaodong replied okay.
He was asleep even before Tang Suoyan left, hugging a bolster and sleeping on his side on the couch.
Tang Suoyan didn’t close the curtains.
Instead, he covered him with a quilt and, before he left, walked up to him and pressed a gentle kiss to his temple.
Tao Xiaodong hadn’t had proper sleep during this period of time, largely staring with eyes wide open until daybreak, causing his entire person to become haggard and lethargic.
Today, however, he managed to sleep deeply.
Perhaps it was the peaceful morning that he spent together with Tang Suoyan, who made him feel safe.
He seemed not to worry about Tao Xiaodong’s eyes.
Sick Let’s treat it, then.
Don’t get worked up about it, don’t keep thinking about it.
He never gave Tao Xiaodong the impression that it was much of a big deal, brushing over it, and this attitude allowed Tao Xiaodong to relax significantly.
Upon his return, Tang Suoyan took off his coat and checked on Tao Xiaodong straightaway.
Seeing that the other was sleeping soundly, he went to wash his hands, then sat on the couch, and Tao Xiaodong roused almost immediately after.
He opened his eyes to see Tang Suoyan.
It was difficult to describe the emotion that welled in his heart at that moment.
Like his drifting heart was being cradled, and his wandering soul finally had a place to return.
Safe, like his heart had touched down, and his entire body had loosened up and gone soft.
He felt so very relaxed in that moment.
Tang Suoyan was loosening his tie when he saw Tao Xiaodong, eyes open, looking over, and he smiled.
Tao Xiaodong looked at him for a while, then sat up and quietly moved over to where Tang Suoyan was.
Tang Suoyan hugged him.
His body was warm from sleep; Tang Suoyan really liked that.
“Have you gotten enough sleep”
Tao Xiaodong hummed in assent and then called “Yan ge.”
Tang Suoyan stroked his back up and down, a gesture that was an unconscious mimicry of the past, or maybe also in comfort.
“I…” Tao Xiaodong rested his head on the doctor’s shoulder.
Tang Suoyan had not yet changed out of his shirt, but the white wasn’t glaringly bright, but imprinted with Tang Suoyan’s gentle warmth.
He said hoarsely, “I don’t know what I should do.
I don’t want to call things off with you…”
Tang Suoyan’s hand paused, before continuing to stroke his back.
“I adore you… so, so much.
So much that my heart is going to break.” Tao Xiaodong pressed his eyes against Tang Suoyan’s shoulder, and his voice as he spoke went slightly nasally and hoarse.
“…What do I do”
Tang Suoyan turned his head over, tucking the other’s head under his chin.
Tao Xiaodong held tightly onto him without lifting his head, his voice turning even more nasally and even more hoarse.
“It was agonising to hear you say that you’re sad.
It wrecked me.”
Tang Suoyan reached out to cradle his face and attempted to get him to look up.
Tao Xiaodong ducked his face down, not letting Tang Suoyan see his face.
Tang Suoyan kissed the crown of his head, murmuring, “Xiaodong.”
“What do I do” Tao Xiaodong forced himself to take a breath, voice cracking.
“…What do you do”
His shoulders were shuddering as he tightly held onto Tang Suoyan, caught onto Tang Suoyan’s shirt, trying to draw even more strength from this man’s being.
Tang Suoyan turned his face over, his larynx straining slightly.
Curling into him, Tao Xiaodong called his name, heartbreakingly vulnerable, all the strength he could muster suppressed into a hoarse prayer, softly begging—
“Yan ge, save me.”