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Comfort is something that Jun has completely grown accustomed to. As the forty-ninth year of his life approaches its twilight, he finally feels like he has been able to wholeheartedly achieve complete calm and uneventfulness. 

While driving to the same resort where he and his family have spent their holidays every year since 1996, he smiles, feeling sure and coddled by the certainty that the relationships, the work and the secrets that have accompanied him until now, will continue to do so until the end of his days.

“I just don’t understand why I still have to come with you?” His firstborn asks suddenly, covering the happy bubblegum pop tune coming from the radio.

“This is time for family bonding, Li. You can't skip it." His wife, Yanli, answers calmly, while Jun continues to look ahead and drive, trying to keep himself out of the incoming storm.

"Why are you acting like we don't live together?" Li presses.

Jun and his second daughter, Yunying, keep their mouths shut as the other two drone on in the same way they always do during their arguments.

This is what comfort feels like, Jun thinks, it's not only a soft couch and a warm bed; it's knowing exactly what to expect, being able to foresee the way in which every situation he is involved in will develop.

Jun finally pulls up among the fighting, a smile breaks his worried look as the golden letters of The Bear's Den ’s sign come into sight. They visit this same hotel only once a year and it always fascinates Jun to see how committed the staff is in keeping it exactly the same through the decades.

"Each one of you will take their own luggage." Yanli clears her throat and she opens the car door to step outside.

"Okay, mom." Only Yunying responds, her voice jumping cutely, as she springs out of her seat. Her excitement always rubs off easily on Jun, it makes him want to mimic her quirky mannerisms, even if it means risking to almost bumps his head against the roof of the car while trying.

Yanli laughs at him and shakes her head, “Dumb.” 

“Thanks,” he nods and finally steps out of the car all in one piece.

The huge, fake bear standing in the corner of the reception room is as striking as ever, as much as the grimace that instinctually appears on the faces of the women accompanying him at the sight of it.

“Ah! The Zheng family is finally here, as punctual as clockwork!” The owner of the place walks out of a door marked as staff only and claps his hands loudly, startling Jun out of his reverie.

“Just like every year!” he responds smiling politely. He’s excited to see him, his cargo shorts and his checkered shirt, all slightly too small for him; he’s just as Jun remembered him.

“Here are your keys and for anything... You come to me.” He poses a hand on his chest, his eyes stare seriously at Jun’s genuine smile, but suddenly stray away, looking somewhere behind him. “Ah! Here he comes!” 

Jun turns to look at whoever the owner is talking about. He doesn’t know how to feel when he meets the unfamiliar young man’s eyes.

“This is Yixing, our latest addition! He’s been like a breath of fresh air for this old, decrepit hotel! He’s just turned thirty and he’s already been able to resurrect this place.” The old man explains, Jun listens but his mind is somewhere else; distracted by sweat, tank tops and fit bodies. By the willfully forgotten notion of men.

“You’re praising me too much! You know you’ll still have to pay me at the end of the month, right?” Pretty pink lips curl as the newcomer laughs, for a moment they twist up on one side, a small smirk that prompts Jun to meet his eye. He immediately wishes he hadn’t, because the look he finds is uncomfortably predatory. He is being scrutinized from head to toe, one single, long glance that gives voice to silent thoughts. Jun realizes he mustn’t look too different from him.

He hears his daughters laugh and he looks away quickly, jolting as if he were burned.

He already hates the feeling of this breath of fresh air on his skin, but he tells himself it's nothing that he won't be able to ignore and he goes on with the check in. The creaking of the wooden staircase is like music to Jun's ears, they mix perfectly with his daughters' complaints about the weight of their suitcases. It brings him back to a better mood, where everything is good and, above all, known.

Their rooms are next to each other, as per tradition, and Jun waves at his daughters as they disappear behind their door.  

"Seems like even the old Bear's den is moving forward. Never thought I'd see the day." Yanli says, while looking at the flyer in her hand, a flyer that's never been here before this year.

"I think it was perfect before." Jun is slightly disgruntled.

"Oh, they offer guided hikes in the mountains… A bus to the lake! They really stepped up their game." Yanli continues excitedly, while Jun opens the door to their room.

Jun stares in shock at what is revealed. Where once used to be pale yellow, flowery wallpaper, now there's white and green colour block walls, instead of the old layered white curtains there's a kick of bright orange. The tasteful 80s look the room used to have has been completely wiped out and Jun's excitement has gone with it.

Yanli pushes past him "This is…" she twirls in the room like she's in a castle, "...Incredible!" 

Jun grimaces and turns his back on her to slam the door shut.

 

 

Things don't seem to be going Jun's way, but today is a new day and he's sure that, despite yesterday’s rocky start, everything will progress smoothly.

"Dad, there's a hike in the program this afternoon." Yunying, the apple of his eye, tugs on his black t-shirt. He knows what that look means and it's just a bit heart breaking.

"Is our usual hike not enough anymore?" he asks, putting up a pitiful expression, he tries to mask it by making a parody out of it, but it really does sting a bit.

"That's not what I mean!" She says quickly, "...But they might have discovered different paths. What if we manage to get to the top of the mountain?"

She is right. Jun has to ignore his bruised ego and nod his head. "That's not a bad idea." he smiles and pats her head.

She smiles back and pats his shoulder before running off to a small group of kids her age that she must have just met, Jun has no idea how someone so outgoing could have half of his genes inside her. 

He decides to go bother his older daughter to kill the time, but he hesitates when he sees her being engaged in another fierce combat with her mother.

Jun stares at his wife waiting for her to either ask him to intervene or stay away. When she finally notices him she makes a shooing motion and a thumb up.

He sticks around for a moment longer, trying to listen in the conversation, but when he hears the name of one of her male friends being thrown around he quickly sets off. He is not ready to deal with the possibility of his daughters getting boyfriends just yet.

He walks out, filling his lungs with clean, mountain air will surely lift his mood. That’s what his mental voice tells him, but instead of listening to it, he looks far into the mountains and takes out his pack of cigarettes.

“Sir, smoking is not allowed in this area.” Someone talks to him among the clicks of his lighter.

Jun moves his gaze away from the scenery, to send a displeased look at the person interrupting him. He’s not surprised to see the cause of all his problems speaking. He knows it sounds horribly childish, but that’s how Jun feels as he meets the new staff member’s eyes. 

“The smoking area is there.” He is pointing at a plexiglass structure a few steps to their left and at the huge Smoking Area written above it, neither of which Jun had noticed.

“Oh, sorry, I hadn’t realized.” He keeps the unlit cigarette between his lips and sighs, moves his gaze back on the green and the dark stone of the landscape  “Many things have changed.”

“For the better.” the man speaks quickly, so confident, so sure of himself. Jun side eyes him and wonders what are the pros of behaving so cockishly.

“I found the old Bear’s den quite good.” Jun can’t help himself.

“Well, it had its qualities, most of which we’ve kept.” Jun isn’t sure why he’s indulging this old man’s complaints so seriously. Why instead of finding an excuse to walk away he steps closer to him, “But it had so much unused potential, it needed to change to stay in business.”

Jun just hums at that, he has nothing to retort, he is a marketing professional, he’s given this same advice too many times to act like he doesn’t agree with it.

“I know we’ve already been introduced, but... Nice to meet you, my name is Zhang Yixing.” Jun sees him offer his hand from the corner of his eye, out of politeness he turns towards him and shakes it.

“Zheng Jun,” he introduces himself after taking the cigarette out of his mouth, “It’s nice to meet you too, I’m sorry for sounding so unpleasant.”

“No problem,” Yixing smiles and Jun wants to look away, but can’t bring himself to do it, “Do you have any interest in hiking?” he asks, not letting Jun's hand go.

“Ah, yes, that’s one of the reasons we always come here, the trails are fantastic and the sights…” Being able to talk about his hobby puts him at ease, but he’s interrupted; his passionate declaration cut short by fingers sneaking up his wrist insistently, brushing openly against the strap of his watch.

“Oh, that's nice, I'm working here as a guide for the hikes,” Jun feels Yixing’s amber eyes burn him, the polite curl of his lips instilling fear in Jun’s system "We have a lot in common, then." Jun pulls his hand away and listens to his flight response.

“I’ll go to the smoking area.” he announces somberly, avoiding Yixing completely. He turns his back on him and beelines for the transparent room, his hands are shaking when he picks up his lighter again.

 

 

Jun doesn’t give himself any time to think about the reality of his feelings, he has no interest in metabolising any of it. He wants the image in his head, the words echoing in his ears to stay somewhere in the air around him until they’ll become faint enough to dissolve on their own.

“Nothing happened.” A mantra he’s been repeating at every worried inquiry from his daughters.

“He’s just mad about the hotel getting rid of that hideous wallpaper.” he can hear the roll of his wife’s eyes in the sound of her voice.

Normally he would have dwelled in some healthy, conjugal bickering, but he doesn’t this time, he stays quiet and lets his family fill the silence. He watches over their backs, listens to their words carefully as they all walk to their favourite restaurant in the area. 

A nice waitress welcomes them as soon as they step inside and helps them find a free table. Jun can't help but feel relieved at the sight of the round tables, at the welcoming, spicy scent of the food typical of this region. His mood improves significantly as he sits down with the small, oily menu in his hands.

"Oh, our little boy was feeling hungry! Is that why you were so grumpy?" Yanli makes fun of him as she pinches his cheek.

Jun just turns to glare at her, to great amusement of their daughters.

He’s worked so hard for this, he’s worked so hard to be normal .

The walk back to the hotel after lunch is calm and pleasant, the old town is not particularly interesting, it reminds Jun of his hometown, where the stone gates in front of the houses are the only things from a past era still standing. Jun tugs at the neckline of his shirt, starting to feel a dit damp. Everything touched by the sunrays boils and melts, but the light breeze coming from north keeps the temperatures mild and comfortable.

"Mom and Li are going to the lake this afternoon." Yunying nears him as they stroll through a busier street, filled with tourist traps.

Jun hums, once again foreseeing what his daughter is trying to say "Sounds nice." he smiles at her, "You want to go too?"

"But the hike…" she circles his arm and squishes her cheek against it.

"The mountains aren't going anywhere. We'll have three more days to explore them." he reassures her,

"That's what I thought! And you’re coming too, right?! Don’t forget the costume!" She takes off without letting Jun get one single word in and reaches the rest of the family, walking a few meters in front of them.

He doesn't want to make it too obvious, but he's glad he won't have to spend hours walking up a mountain with his daughter and the cause of the turmoil brewing inside him.

It's just unlucky that it ends up happening anyways, albeit in a way that doesn't force Jun to interact with him.

If it weren’t for the fact that he can’t stop looking .

The damp tank top Yixing had been wearing the first time he saw him didn’t do much justice to the real lines of his torso. What had seemed just an average fit body is actually made up of artfully chiselled flesh and firm, ripe, tight muscles. 

Jun looks away before he can start drawing comparisons with the models depicted on the packages of his underwear and the shameful, teenage encounters he’s had with them. 

“Isn’t that the new hotel employee?” Yanli asks out loud as she pulls down her sunglasses.

“Who?” Jun gets out, trying desperately to sound disinterested, she points at him and he’s forced to acknowledge it “Oh, yeah, that’s true.”

“Ah,” she sighs and pushes her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “I feel 20 years younger just by looking at him.” She punches Jun’s chest lightly.

Both of them are caught staring, Yixing rises from the lake’s waters looking like he’s not made of human flesh, but like he's is a marble statue come to life thanks to the gods’ breath. He is honoring them by gazing in their direction and by gifting them a smile, confident and beautiful. His dark hair drips water down the soft features of his face, they stumble over his eyelashes, over his pink lips. Against his better judgement, Jun follows their trail even as they move down and dive in the deep creases of his collarbones. 

“Yeah.” it comes out a bit choked up, but neither of them says anything about it, “Let’s go change.” Jun says with a wry smile, he puts a hand on the small of his wife’s back trying to ground himself to earth.

The changing rooms are the same old, gray buildings they’ve always been. The men’s side has only three private stalls, but Jun is lucky enough to walk in just as one of them becomes free. 

If they weren’t planning to walk directly to dinner, he would have changed into his costume in the hotel room; to be completely honest he would have still done it if it weren’t for his wife’s complaints. In this specific moment, though, he’s glad he did, because his loose shorts cover the anomaly on his crotch much better than a swimsuit ever could.

An almost fifty years old man pitching a tent in the middle of a crowd is shameful and unsightly, it somehow manages to turn even worse when Jun remembers the reason why it happened. 

He needs a few minutes to compose himself after changing, not wanting to make a spectacle out of his issues. Jun closes his eyes, covers his ears and wills himself to think of something else, anything else. Considering his whereabouts, it proves to be quite the feat, he’s in a room made to host naked men, after all and by telling himself not to think about it, Jun is just making himself focus on it even more.

He is not sure how long it took him, but he succeeds, barely, to gather his senses and regain control of his own reins, in the silence of the room around him the key of his door clicks and is readily followed by a voice.

“You took a while in there, Mr. Zheng. I hope everything’s fine.” Jun swears against the heavens in his own head so loudly that he almost isn’t able to hear what his interlocutor is saying. What Yixing is saying.

“Oh, yes.” He smiles, strained, tired, “Everything’s fine.” he walks out of the stall and moves towards the exit, but he’s held back by his right arm.

“Are you not going to leave your things here?” he points at the lockers, Jun follows the line of his finger and attempts not to look like he’s completely forgotten, “I’m going away, so you can use mine.”

“Thank you.” Jun turns on his heels when Yixing lets his arm go and moves to his locker to retrieve his things. 

With his arms full he walks into one of the stalls, Jun gives him a small, awkward nod and moves to dump his own clothes in the small space, but the key is nowhere to be found. He starts searching for it from the counter in front of the only mirror in the dressing room, but at a quick glance, he can’t see it laying anywhere. Expectedly, his eyes stray away soon after that, interested in the moving reflection on the mirror: Yixing’s legs from the knees down, the loud sound of his wet costume falling to the floor, his hands reaching for it. Although, it’s what Jun can’t see that is driving him insane, it’s the images that his twisted imagination is piecing together.

“Are you a good swimmer, Mr. Zheng?” Yixing’s voice echoes in the sterile room, Jun quickly turns away and starts looking for the key again.

“Not really, I just pray I'll be able to stay afloat.” He clears his throat and walks far from the only occupied stall.

“Ah, too bad I won’t be here to witness it!” At that Jun changes his mind and turns to look at the closed door.

“Stop making fun of me, I’ll report you to your boss.” He says jokingly, crossing his arms in front of his chest, “I am a client, am I not supposed to be always right?”

The door opens and Yixing walks out, still shirtless, but he has light washed jeans on, the button of the fastening is left undone, there’s no visible underwear, only a light trail of dark hair starting from unspeakable places and reaching up to his belly button.

Yixing walks up to him, Jun feels a touch under his chin, his head is being moved, and his eyes, that had been so intent overseeing Yixing’s clothing choices and daring glances at everything else he was offering, are now looking directly at his face.

“You’re so wrong. I’ve never seen anyone being so far into the wrong as you.” Jun looks away, turns his back towards Yixing, not feeling any lightness in his words, “It’s not my place to judge, though.”

Jun panics when the mirror shows him Yixing inching closer, his long fingers stroking his back and slowly his entire body nearing him enough to adhere perfectly against him. The wetness over his skin seeps through Jun’s shirt, his hands move over his arms

“But you’re interesting.” His eyes still feel so intense, Jun doesn’t know how to describe the way they make his skin rise, “And you’re handsome.” Yixing’s hand starts playing with the longer strands of his hair “I can’t leave you alone.”

The same hand sneaks over his shoulder and reaches into the small pocket on the left side of his shirt, “The key.” Jun’s heart rate spikes as he pats the same spot and makes the metal jingle, “I’ll see you around.”

Jun turns to look at him as he walks away, with each of his steps he feels himself slip more into insanity.

He quickly slams the locker close and walks to the beach. 

 

 

“Dad!” Yunying’s shrill voice filters through the restless vertigo of his thoughts.

“Oh!” he’s startled, the newspaper he was staring at without reading falls off his hands, “Yes, what is it?” 

“The hike! It’s supposed to start in an hour! We’re going right?!”

Jun bends down to pick up the newspaper and takes his time folding it up, giving some empty space for his brain to come up with an excuse.

He sighs, "Sure." no good excuses come to him unfortunately.

In a little more than twenty-five minutes, Jun has worn his hiking outfit and is ready to take on the mountains.

His daughter and himself near the small group equipped with professional ankle boots and backpacks, Yixing notices them and nods his head, Jun avoids looking at him all together and tentatively raises his hand, to be at least a little bit polite, and greet him back.

"Look, they go the other way around." Yunying has a small map provided by the hotel in her hands, the red line highlighting today's trail takes turns and paths than his daughter and he never knew existed.

"Oh, they go east, we might be able to see the lake." Jun points out excitedly, the love for his hobby makes it easy to forget the worries.

They are in a small group of eight people ranging between twenty-five and forty years of age and yet, only fifteen minutes in, his sixteen years old daughter and his tired almost fifty years old self find themselves at the head of the expedition.

"It's a shame we never found this path before." Jun says, voice full of regret as he looks on at the new scenery. The dark stone of the mountains is almost completely covered by greenery, a sign that water must be close, it's a sight completely different from the usual drier landscapes they see on the walks they organize by themselves.

"Our usual excursions are good too! But I'm glad to hear you say this, I thought you were going to be mad." Yunying sounds elated and Jun's heart squeezes, he adores his little girl so much, he dreads the day she'll grow distant like her sister did.

"You don't need to worry about dad! I was just surprised by all the changes..." he pats the yellow baseball cap on her head.

"That was so cute!" Yixing's voice comes from behind them, positively startling Jun out of his skin, making him displace a foot.

“Oh! Careful!” Jun feels a hand grasp his arm and Yixing’s voice again, this time gentle but reprimanding.

“I’m sorry, thank you.” He bows his head politely and moves away quickly, he focuses on glaring at his daughter who is laughing at him almost face planting on nothing but rocks.

It's a shame that Yixing tags along for the rest of the hike, sharing small talk with Yunying and making Jun so hyper-aware of him that he finds it impossible to focus on anything else. The hike goes by with him staring at thighs and sweaty, lightly tanned skin instead of incredible views of the lake.

The hike up the mountain lasts a couple of hours, it reaches its end when the small group walks up to a clearing with an incredible view of the lake and is awarded with a sandwich and a bottle of water.

Yunying sits down and hugs her legs to her chest, looking absolutely thrilled, even by the dry bread of their lunch. Jun is a bit out of breath, but he already feels lighter just by looking at her.

“Take a picture of me!” She suddenly springs to her feet and starts fumbling with her backpack. It takes a while, but when she finally finds her phone she runs towards Jun oozing excitement.

“Of course.” Jun nods his head and immediately steps back, trying to show in the picture as much of the landscape as he can. Yuying throws up a peace sign and a victorious pose, “Ah, that’s so pretty, honey!”

“Thank you!” she singsongs, widening her pretty smile even further.

“I think we have enough now!” After a minute or two, she tries to politely tell her father to stop snapping away, but Jun doesn’t want to hear it.

“No, let me take one more with the trees on your right!” he almost shouts, but he’s not embarrassed in the slightest, nothing does when his dad mode is turned on.

“Hey, Yixing ge, please take a picture for us!” Yunying suddenly raises her arms and starts waving, making Jun’s next shot an absolute mess. Jun looks at the image on the phone screen with an austere expression, trying to express how distraught the sight makes him.

“Oops…” Yixing says as he poses his eyes on the picture, Jun looks at him with his lips downturned, “Yunying looks like a flying bug in that one. I hope the others are better…”

“The others are perfect! This would have been a great shot, too!” he complains, but no one listens to him: Yunying is telling him to stop talking and Yixing is pushing him towards his daughter.

The complicated poses Yuying makes him do are enough to keep him happy and distracted, even when Yixing hands him back the phone and touches him more and longer than necessary he is able to not pay it any mind. At least that’s what he tells himself.

It’s a bit harder to ignore Yixing when they’re back at the hotel and in front of everyone he comes close to him and invites him somewhere else to talk.

He guides him far from the entrance and past the smoking area, almost all the way around the building where there’s nothing but heavy-looking cases and doors that only the staff can open and trees. 

“You weren't lying when you said you enjoyed hiking,” he starts, Jun smiles stiffly, scared of finding out the reason why he was brought here “Your daughter too, that was really nice to see… It’s pretty rare these days.”

“She’s the only one in the family who enjoys it, I tried to convince my wife, my oldest daughter, but they never even wanted to try.” Jun reminisces, smiles lightly at his next thought, “Yunying was the complete opposite, she was the one who had to convince me to bring her along.” he eyes a lonely bench standing by the wall and decides to use it as a seat. 

“That’s a really nice story.” Yixing follows and pulls his legs up on creaky wood to cross them, Jun’s eyes catch the movement and follow it distractedly. Yixing’s tight shorts ride dangerously high on his firm thighs.

“It is.” Jun shifts in his seat, feeling uncomfortable in his own skin.

“Mr. Zheng,” Yixing starts, his feet are back on the ground, he widens his legs and the firm flesh of his thighs fights against his tight shorts. Jun is too distracted by what he is seeing to notice Yixing’s right palm brushing against his left thigh

Yixing never continues his sentence, instead he stares insistently at him; despite all the encounters Jun has already had with them, his eyes still feel like hot coal on his skin.

Jun retracts his leg, shakes his head no.

“I’m sorry.” Yixing's demeanor changes completely, from relaxed to apologetic, he stands up and fumbles slightly with his hands, clearly not knowing what to do with them, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m not going to lie, you are.” Jun stands up too and clears his throat, his fists close, “You’ve been making me uncomfortable since I got here.” 

Yixing turns, his expression is still softer than usual, but his right eyebrow ticks, “Then how uncomfortable do you think it is to be stared at like you stare at me.” he takes a few steps towards him, until they’re face to face.

Jun is stunned, not only he was caught red handed, but he also tried to push all the responsibility onto Yixing. He goes back to sitting down, he doesn’t trust himself to be able to stay on his feet with his knees becoming weak and his heat rate spiking.

“You understand why it’s hard for me to not be direct...” Jun’s head falls in his hands when he sees Yixing near him again. He squeezes his eyes shut when he feels the bench accommodate the other person sitting on his left. Yixing pushes his chest against his shoulder and the weight on Jun’s left thigh makes him think that he must have posed one of his legs there“...You do, right?”

Jun’s hand quickly moves to cover the ear where Yixing whispers that last question. He needs to get back on his feet and get out of this man’s range as soon as possible.

“You were so hot today,” a hand sneaks up his neck, plays gently with the strands of hair that reach his nape, “I already knew you’re handsome, but I didn’t expect you to be this fit as well.” One more hand trails down his chest, “You did it on purpose right? Wearing a shirt this flimsy to walk under the sun.” He pulls it up and his hand moves underneath it, feeling the slight abs that Jun still tries to keep trained.

It’s almost four in the afternoon, the rays of the sun are not warming the air in the same way they were doing just one hour before. Despite that, the air flowing through Jun’s nose feels hot and thick like lava. 

Jun sits up, takes Yixing’s wrist and shoves his hand far from him, he doesn’t accompany the action with words, he’s afraid of what his voice might sound like.

Yixing seems to be discouraged by Jun slowly closing into himself, he’s still insistent when he fights against Jun’s grip and retakes control of his hand, but he doesn't push any further. Jun opens his eyes in time to see him pull his leg off of him and sit back straight.

Jun breathes out, sits back, lets some of the tenseness leave his body. He covers his eyes, not wanting to be seen with his face burning out of embarrassment. He feels shame for being so weak and for the way his heart beats faster at the notion of being wanted from someone that looks like Yixing, even if he most likely only sees him as a challenge, or as an old man easy to dupe.

“Stop doing this.” He gets out, it takes a great deal of effort now that he has admitted to himself how he actually feels about Yixing’s attentions.

“Why?” Yixing asks, his Adam's apple bobs under his flawless skin. 

Jun’s features twist with incredulity, “How can you even ask this?”

“I am just asking you to give me a reason.” His eyes widen, he looks quite different from the vixen front he was putting on only a few moments before.

“A reason? There are a million reasons.” Jun finally stands up, he touches his forehead, whipes some of the sweat gathered under the brim of his baseball hat.

“For example?” It’s frustrating, it’s like his words enter in one of Yixing’s ears and escape right out of the other one.

“I am married, I am much older than you,” Jun’s arms fall on his sides, “And I’m not attracted to men.”

“Are we playing two truths and a lie? Because that wasn’t a very good round.” Yixing’s eyebrows raise on his forehead, Jun can’t believe he’s getting this kind of attitude during such a serious moment; he just sighs and stays still, feeling a bit defeated, "I don't understand how you can live like this."

Yixing stands up too, the movements of their bodies have never stopped following the flow of their conversation, “I don’t need you to comment on my morality, I’m not the married guy going on vacation to sneak glances at hot guys.” 

Jun turns to look at him, his features suddenly hardened,  his index finger raises before he can even think about it, “You’re so fucking cocky.”

“Am I wrong?” he continues, the snark is getting to Jun’s nerves.

“It’s none of your business. Just leave me and my family alone.” His voice grows rougher as he steadily becomes more angry.

“If I were the person you’re making me out to be, I would have outed you already.” Hearing that specific word sends Jun’s brain in a frenzy.

Both himself and Yixing have advanced towards each other, their chests puffed and their eyebrows furrowed. Both seem to boil with a mix of emotions that neither is completely able to recognize. 

Jun’s skin’s alight, his breathing grows laboured as Yixing walks close enough to make their chests bump against each other. Every inch of him is raised in tiny, nervous bumps. He gasps deeply, getting ready to fight, but his eyes continue to land on Yixing’s spit-slicked lips.

Jun ponders, wonders, lets his brain free to make the confusion and the sensations worse. Everything is too intense to handle, he is fully convinced that he is having a heart attack when Yixing’s nose brushes against his and the nature around him takes on saturated colors, the edges of his vision blur.

Then Yixing cuts the distance even further and Jun doesn’t move away.

Yixing’s lips are as soft as he had imagined and his tongue, his actions are firm, sure. Everything about him satisfies any teenage dream he has ever had.

Jun accepts how bad he wants to hold his hips, to feel the width of his back, the firmness of his torso, how he wants to be held too, in a way that no one in his life has ever dared to.

He gives in slowly into each of his desires, his arms close against Yixing’s waist, his flesh is tight, hard against the tips of Jun's fingers. Yixing’s hands splay aggressively over his back, he feels him grope around, almost as to gauge its width and firmnes; meanwhile Jun’s hands fit themselves over the ridges and planes of Yixing’s body and he hides his face in his neck to breathe in his scent. There’s something feral attached to his actions, he is embarrassed but he can’t put a stop to it.

It's supposed to be wrong, unnatural, but Jun has never felt more right.

It's this thought of all things that sets him off. His eyes open again and he sees the world around himself. Everything comes crashing down, all his responsibilities, his decisions, his life whole steals him back from that moment of freedom and doesn’t let him go.

He steps back and pushes Yixing away,”No,” he whispers to himself, realizing what he has just done.

“At ten I’ll be here waiting for you.” Yixing poses his forehead against Jun’s, holds his head between his hands, “You’re free to come. If you don’t I promise you I will stop bothering you.”

They stare at each other, Jun feels electricity spark everywhere over his body. He nods, then quickly turns his back on Yixing and leaves.

It’s not easy focusing on anything after that.

It all goes by in a flash. Dinner, a warm bath, a bit of TV and suddenly Jun finds himself in the smoking area, letting his cigarette burn without bringing it back to his lips even once. 

He is too occupied with the arms of his watch, quickly approaching ten at a rhythm that feels abnormally fast. 

The decision is easy to take, of course Jun is not going to go. Of course he has no intention of losing everything he’s worked so hard for and hurt the people he loves the most.

The decision is easy, Jun actually, really believes it. Yet at ten sharp he’s behind the hotel, standing at the edge of the forest, doing his best to appear calm despite everything brewing inside him.

When Yixing comes out of one of the back doors he spots him immediately, but doesn’t say anything, instead he hands him a torch and walks confidently towards the wall on trees on their right.

It’s incredibly dark under the thick foliage of the wooden giants around them, not even the torch is able to make enough light to make Jun feel sure about the trail he’s following. He looks up attempting, at least, to discern the direction they’re following by looking at the stars, but he finds nothing but leaves.

“Don’t be impatient, we’re almost there.” Yixing says and Jun stays put after that, continuing to follow in silence.

Suddenly something changes in the way the trees have grown, they're not as thickly packed as they've been until then, they seem to be making space for something else. Jun starts to understand when a light sound of water travels to his ears and he catches glimpses of the light of their torches being reflected, in the way only water can do.

"Around here." Yixing turns right, his hand reaches out to grab Jun's.

He feels so young, sneaking around in the middle of a forest, worried that Yixing will be grossed out by his sweaty hand.

They halt as the trees reveal the side of one of the one of smallest rocky mountains around and the sight of the loud, impetuous water falling off its side.

Jun's jaw opens in awe of the view.

Yixing lets his hand go and takes a first step on the spiky rocks diving them from the small lake formed under the waterfall. He stops on one of the wider ones and tugs at his black hoodie, pulling it off himself.

"What are you doing?" Jun asks, the laughter in his voice drips with nervousness.

"Taking a bath." he responds matter-of-factly, while pushing his shoes off his feet and his jeans down his legs.

He is only in a pair of boxers when he goes to retrieve Jun from the spot where he's still standing, frozen and shell-shocked. He pulls him forward, so close that Jun can see clearly the stray drops of water jumping out the white fog accompanying each movement of the heavy stream of water and the pretty colours of the lotus flowers drifting over the surface of the pond.

Yixing, still standing on his side, doesn't follow his line of vision, instead he keeps his gaze fixed on him. He soon looks down, though and lets his head rest on Jun's chest.

“I don’t want you to think that this is some kind of hobby for me.” It’s hard to hear his voice over the sound of the water cascading, “Even if I found you attractive, normally I would just stay away,” He raises his head and poses his hands on his shoulders, they’re almost the same height and the new position makes Yixing’s breath hit the area of Jun’s lips, “But I can’t control it this time. I’ve never wanted something this much.”

Jun doesn’t want to believe him, but he can’t find any flaw in his expression, he seems completely sincere.

“I am not wrong to think that you want me as well, right?” the question seems out of character,

“I wasn’t expecting you to ask, after being so forward.”

“I am sorry for before,” he hides again against his chest, “I wasn’t thinking clearly, I was angry that you were going to act like...” he pauses, “You don’t feel like I do.”

“Still so cocky, for no reason.” Jun’s lips twist in an amused smirk, he’s been so tense for so long that it feels strange to let himself go and act on his most hidden desires. His hands raise, one to caress the back Yixing’s head, the other to feel the naked skin of his waist.

“Stop calling me that, I’m not cocky,” his face leaves its hiding spot and revelas a disgruntled pout, “I’m just trying to get you to stop tiptoeing around me,” His right hand reaches behind himself and grabs Jun’s, he pulls it down and pushes against his fingers to hold tightly onto his ass “To stop thinking and fuck me.”

Jun’s throat closes, he has difficulty breathing, his chest raises and deflates in shallow motions. He’s so horny, he’s so flattered and so happy.

Nothing exists anymore, only the two of them, their discarded clothes and the sound of water.

Yixing jumps into the small lake first, Jun isn’t a great swimmer, so entering any body of water is a bit of a challenge for him, no matter how deep it might be. So he’s stuck with his feel on blunt rocks and his hands cupping his genitals, still shielding himself from complete nakedness.

“Come on! Get in!” Yixing shouts as he re-emerges, looking ethereal under the silver rays of the Moon’s light that hit the small patch devoid of high foliage. He’s like a nymph, a water deity compared to Jun’s awkward stance.

The level of the water reaches Yixing’s middle, it's clear that there’s nothing to be scared of, but Jun still has his reserves and Yixing doesn’t push him anymore, he just walks slowly towards him and without uttering a single word he puts his cold hands on Jun’s feet. They move upwards, over his calves and up to his knees, it doesn’t take too long for them to reach Jun’s joined hands. As he does, Yixing looks up at him and starts playing with his fingers.

Jun is stepping in the water seconds later, he doesn’t jump in like Yixing, instead he dips in tentatively, using his companion’s hand as support.

“It’s not as cold as I thought.” he has to scream to be heard over the waterfall, even if Yixing is sticking close to him. Yixing smiles and continues to hold his hand, dragging him around the small pond.

The water is crystal clear, Jun can see the muddy floor, the shadows of the water plants waving in time with the small ripples on the surface of the pond; he is able to see his own legs moving forward and Yixing’s body floating near him. 

Out of curiosity, Jun looks above them, at the small section of the sky visible. The sight is breathtaking, the view from his apartment in the middle of Beijing and even the one from the Bear’s den can’t compare to how the sky looks in the middle of nowhere.

Countless brilliant spots populate the sky, Jun for the first time really feels like he’s getting a peek at their galaxy. He stops a few steps away from the spot where the waterfall dives in endlessly and he submerges himself down to his shoulders, he tugs Yixing’s arm, to signal him to stop. Yixing turns and looks at him confused, his light eyebrows crease on his forehead.

Jun signals him to look up, Yixing does and one more star is added to the scenery, his pretty smile blossoming from his lips.

Jun pulls him closer, both of his hands move to his waist and their bodies adhere to each other. Feeling Yixing’s wide palms against himself, his dick brushing against his thigh is enough for him to be transported back to earlier in the day, when they were drowning in orange light and locked around each other. That same sensation of finally feeling at the right place at the right time, invades him once more.

Yixing winds up around him, even with the water splashing loudly in his ears, Jun listens closely to what he whispers.

“There’s a proper beach on that side.” he point behind himself, in the direction where he had been guiding them 

Jun takes a deep breath and gulps the nervousness down, his hands leave every fear behind and start touching Yixing with clear intent, aiming for the back of his thighs. When Jun straightens his legs again, Yixing comes up with him among gasps and laughter.

“I’ll take you there.” he announces and Yixing hugs him tightly, Jun feels his hips shift against his lower abdomen and he almost loses his balance.

Once they arrive at the area Yixing had been talking about, Jun walks out of the water. To his surprise, stepping on the small rocks of the beach is not much different from walking on sand and when he poses Yixing down they stick to his wet skin in the same way as well. Which offers him the perfect excuse not to look at him directly and to cover his nervousness with the motions of cleaning Yixing’s body.

“Have you ever been with a man, Mr. Zheng?” Yixing asks, his hands pose on Jun’s to stop them and intertwines their fingers, demanding his full attention.   

“...No” He answers truthfully, discarding his old habit of pondering over the possible answer his partner would like to hear.

“Okay,” Yixing says quietly, smiling gently, “You don’t have to be nervous.”

The words make Jun’s heartbeat become violently fast, he feels each beat thunder against his chest, the blood rushing through his temples and his dick fill, giving the first signs of being alive in he doesn’t remember how long.

Yixing opens his legs and helps Jun position himself between them, with no warning he pulls him down, Jun immediately raises himself on his elbows after the impact against Yixing's body.

“Are you okay?” Yixing nods, his smile is wide and even if Jun feels like he is being made fun of, he can’t help slipping into a bit of a daze because of his beauty.

“I’m fine, don’t worry.” His fingers roll one of the few gray strands of Jun’s hair, then something changes, there’s a glint in Yixing’s eyes that he is not able to place. Amidst his wondering, Yixing takes him by surprise and pushes him until they’re rolling and Yixing’s sitting on his lap, their positions successfully reversed.

Jun’s mouth his dry, but he keeps swallowing, fighting against the lump stuck in his throat that just won’t go away. He feels out of his element, naked in the open and with a man sitting on him, he can’t help but glance around, on the lookout for anyone that might walk in on them. 

“Hey focus!” Yixing grabs his face and adjusts it so that he’s looking only at him. Jun is speechless, finally looking at Yixing and truly seeing him. He looks divine, Jun feels himself melt under his intense gaze and the scorching trails his touches leave behind. “I’ve never seen anyone as handsome as you. I can’t believe how beautiful you are.” Jun sits up to cup his face, Yixing’s lips open but they don’t emit any discernible sound, he sputters for a few seconds before looking away, Jun wishes he could be able to see if his cheeks are tinted pink.

Yixing shields his embarrassment by amping up his sex appeal, deciding to cover his face in Jun’s crotch.

The feeling of his balls being pulled and the loud sucking sound that accompanies the sensation, is completely new to Jun, even more surprising is Yixing’s fingers moving to his ass, circling an opening that Jun has never even thought of using for pleasure. Yet the sensations coming over him are overwhelming and he realizes it’s just going become worse from here when Yixing shows him a cute smile and proceeds to deepthroat his entire cock.

“God, Yixing this is insane…” Jun pushes out, with a voice that doesn’t sound like his own.

“Grab my hair.” Yixing gets off his cock to speak and lick the underside of his tip. Jun has never experienced anything this lewd in real life, he’s only seen scenes like these in porn.

Jun listens to his demand and grabs a fistful of his wavy, dark hair. Yixing in unyielding, downing his dick as if he had been starving. Jun tries to pull him back slowly, Yixing hums and opens his eyes to stare up at him, Jun pushes him back towards his crotch and nearly comes when he sees Yixing start to jerk himself off.

He had expected Yixing to be comfortable in sexual situations, but this goes well beyond his expectations. 

“I-I need a moment.” he stutters.

"Okay." Yixing frees his lips and poses his cheek on Jun’s thigh, he seems out of breath, but content. He pulls himself up as he seems to get an idea, “If it’s okay with you, I would like you to…” Jun is glad he doesn’t say it out right, he’s already overheating as it is. 

Then Yixing crawls above him, grasps his fully hard dick and pushes it between his ass cheeks, half of Jun wishes he could see, the other damns Yixing for being so needlessly lewd.

“I’ve fingered myself thinking of this earlier, so I’m ready for it.”

“That’s okay.” Jun agrees, he doesn’t have time to properly think about Yixing’s words that he’s already being assaulted by the vision of him spitting on his dick. Jun’s breathing is laboured and his left arm hurts, he is convinced that he has no chance of walking out of this without getting a stroke.

Yixing pushes Jun back down and is sure and skillful as he adjusts their positions. He sees him throw his head back at the first inches of his dick entering him, Jun’s fists close on his sides. The tightness engulfing him is incredible, he is ashamed by how close he already is to cumming. He reaches his limit only moments after, when Yixing starts bouncing and invites him to grasp the firm flesh of his thighs.

Their skins dragging against each other, Yixing's sweet voice breaking in muffled moans, his strong muscled figure quivering and his cock jumping between his legs, as hard as a rock.

Just thinking that Jun is doing this to him, that Yixing has become like this because of him is what prompts him to starts thrusting upwards with all the strength he can muster. Yixing's moans become louder and his broken words make Jun think that he must be hitting the right spot inside him.

The embarrassment swiftly comes back to him when he catches both himself and Yixing by surprise by coming only a few moments after starting. 

“I’m sorry… I… inside you.” Jun speaks among his heavy breathing, he tries to get up but he feels boneless, he’s sure Yixing must be disappointed, “And I don’t usually come this fast, it’s just…” 

Yixing puts a finger on his lips telling him to stay quiet, he lays down on him, his own chest trembles with how heavily he is panting. As he speaks he plays mindlessly with one of Jun’s nipples, “I’m so happy. I want you to keep coming for me.” it leaves Jun unable to form a response. Yixing shifts his hips and he tightends himself, Jun winces at the touch against his oversensitive cock, Yixing kisses his complaints away.

“I’ll help you come too.” Jun speaks between a sweet kiss, already reaching for Yixing's hard dick with one hand, and caressing his back with the other, trying to convey how apologetic he feels.

“No, I want to come together with you.” Yixing shuts him up and exchanges his soft pecks for a long, wet kiss that puts Jun’s lower body back into the mood for anything Yixing might desire.

 

 

Jun has trouble opening the door to his room that night. 

“Where have you been?” Yanli’s voice welcomes him back.

“I went out for a walk,” The sound of Jun’s nervous swallowing resounds in the silent room. He’ll tell her. Not now, soon. “Wanted to see the mountain at night, see the stars.”

“Hearing you talking about it almost makes me want to try it too.” She’s sleepy, her voice comes out weird because of the cheek she keeps squished against the pillow, “It’s not really for me though.” 

She closes her eyes and Jun looks at her pensively, “We could still go, the sky is clear,” he proposes, talking over the regrets slowly piling up in his conscience and at the same time hating himself for using his wife to try to regain some of his beloved safeness. He lays on the bed and raises his hand to touch her shoulder, but he can’t bring himself to do it.

“No, just get to sleep.” she pats the bed and rolls on her side, facing away from him.

Jun retreats on his side of the bed and closes his eyes, preparing to will himself to sleep. He is immediately forced to open them again because his senses attack him as his brain shows him images he’d rather not see with his wife sleeping on his side. 

The rest of his senses don’t stop remembering. Despite himself, he lets the assault of sensations continue on; wanting to relive the feeling of smooth skin under his finger tips, wet lips against him, tightness everywhere around him. He can’t admit it to himself, but he knows he won’t be able to ever forget how it felt to be free, to be right.

 

 

The morning after his face is haunted by heavy looking under eye bags and by the inability to look at his family. 

"How about we take the bus to the city? We might find some nice things to buy, go to a good restaurant…" Yanli proposes on the morning of their second to last day at the hotel, as she flips the pages of the new flyer, commenting on the services provided by the hotel.

"You should have a girls' day." Jun tries to sound nonchalant, he immediately stuffs his face with his breakfast after speaking, giving himself an excuse not to respond to any inquiry they might arise, even if eating worsens the nausea he’s woken up with.

"That sounds good, dad would just complain for the entire day." Li shrugs.

"What are you going to do then?" His wife asks, Jun perceives some stiffness, he guesses it could just be caused by the thought of having to be alone with their daughters.

"I'll go back on the new trail, it was difficult to appreciate everything with all the people wheezing behind me." He laughs to himself, a bit disappointed to not find anyone laughing with him.

"God, you're so boring." Yanli jokes, "I'm glad you're having fun though!" she smiles genuinely and Jun does as well, even if doing so only adds more stiffness to the atmosphere around the breakfast table.

They divide soon after finishing their meal, Jun stalls around the hotel trying to convince the chef, who is only there to cook breakfast, to prepare a sandwich for his excursion and not making him pay too much for it. Meanwhile the rest of his family goes back to the rooms to change and then leaves with the bus bound for the city.

Being able to walk alone through nature is injecting pure serotonin through Jun's bloodstream. He feels guilty when he remembers Yunying’s eyes pleading him silently to bring her with him as well, but he needs some time to himself.

The path is rocky under his boots, but still easier to walk than the ones he usually crosses, which pleases him, but also takes away a bit of the fun from the activity. It feels like someone was paid to make the trail easier to walk on, he realizes that the idea most likely came from the people at the hotel, trying to make their location more interesting and the mountains around them more accessible.

He understands the thought process behind it, after all, the mountain itself is nothing special, no sacred mountain for sure, but it offers a good variety of scenery and challenges that can keep an amateur like him pleasantly entertained. It's a perfect location for beginners.

Thinking of himself as an amateur makes him remember all the times he thought of going pro, of the time when trekking, climbing, hiking used to be a weekly activity, for a short period of time even daily.

His hobby came to him completely by chance. During highschool he had been searching for any kind of extracurricular activity that promised some healthy time spent into the outdoors. A friend from his class introduced him to a small group of students from his highschool that used to organize at least two hikes a month.

He looks back on that period fondly, remembering how hard it felt to walk without the appropriate shoes and how satisfying it was to look back on his path and see everything become smaller: towns, schools, train stations were nothing but far away walls of bricks. It gave to his confused teenage self the opportunity to be able to escape from everything.

It’s been more than thirty years since then, but Jun still feels the exact same.

He feels a drop of sweat roll down his face, the burn in his calves and the first signs of tightness in his thighs, Jun craves these sensations, but he knows better than to exert himself. So, he decides to take a seat and look far into the east, at the sun steady at its highest point in the sky and at its luminous rays reflecting with a blinding brilliance over the calm waves of the large lake, making the water look like iridescent silk

He takes deep breaths of the fresh air around him and lets his ears be filled by the rustling of leaves and the rare sound of small rocks rolling down the trail. 

“Heaven on earth, isn’t it?” 

Jun’s head snaps to his right, he’s not even surprised to see Yixing there, his sudden appearances seem to be the norm. Although, he looks around himself just once, thinking that the heat might be getting to him and making him hallucinate.

“Yes, it’s gorgeous. It makes all the hassle worth it.” he entertains the small conversation, still unsure whether this might be a figment of his imagination talking to him.

Yixing, despite his flawless appearance, seems very real when he sits beside him, “Places like these aren’t easy to find.”

Jun hums in agreement and breathes out, moves his eyes back to the silky luminescence of the water, tries not to make a big deal out of how close together they’re sitting, "All alone today?"

“Yeah, someone from yesterday's group lost something here, I'm trying to find it. And you?” Yixing asks.

“Taking some time to think.”

Yixing seems to sense the heaviness hidden behind the words and stays quiet. Jun sees him stare at him from the corner of his eyes, but he doesn’t want to speak to him and risk saying something he doesn’t mean.

They let some moments pass in complete silence, until Jun is able to gather a few words.

“I don’t need to make excuses for myself.” He starts, “What I did was horrible… But I can’t stop thinking about it.” Jun feels himself spiral, he rationalizes what he’s done as scummy and wrong, but it clashes with the elation that swept over him, the first time in his life that something felt free from the shackles that come with living with a secret. 

“You shouldn’t be taking all the responsibility.” Yixing intervenes,

“I’m the married guy sneaking glances at hot guys.” Jun uses the words Yixing had used against him only a few days before, “I’ve made so many mistakes, I’ve bound so many people to me and I’m not able to make them happy.”

Jun puts his elbows on his thighs and rests his chin on his closed fists, he lets his gaze get lost in the scene in front of him. Yixing is still sitting beside him, Jun feels his head pose on his back, the weight is comforting.

“I don’t want to pretend to know you after only a few days spent together,” he says, “But they seem to be happy, I think you’ve made them happy. You can try to do the same for yourself now.”

“I am happy.” Yixing sighs at Jun’s words.

“I’m sure you are.” he starts, “You’re just not living your own happiness, it’s someone else’s.” Yixing pauses, then he looks at him seriously “Have you always known?”.

“I… Yeah.” Yixing doesn’t specify the subject, but Jun understand what he’s implying, “I’ve always told myself I had no particular preference for the sex of my partners, but… I’ve always known.”

Yixing hums, lets the air sit heavily between them. 

“So, what would you do in my shoes?” Jun asks, but already sounds unsure, he knows they don’t exactly see eye to eye.

“Divorce.” 

Jun looks away from the lake and meets his eyes, "That's not sensible. It's more complicated than that." Hearing him bring up such a drastic solution so easily rubs Jun the wrong way, he stands up and Yixing follows.

Yixing’s hand moves up to his shoulder, then to his neck where it pauses, his palm is hot against Jun’s nape, "Maybe just for once you can let it be easy. You can let yourself go, free yourself from all the secrets, all the fears... And do the same for your family." 

Everything was easy before I met you, Jun almost says.

“And when you do, I’ll be here waiting,” Jun sees Yixing tilt his head, he is smiling at him, “Even just as a friend.” Jun wants to step back, but Yixing grasps his shoulders, hugs him tightly, not letting him move any more than that. 

Jun hesitates, but ends up hugging him back and burrowing into his shoulder. He appreciates the advice and the comforting words Yixing shared with him, but he’s not sure he’ll have the gut to jeopardize his entire life, for something that seems so selfish. Soon he feels ready to cry, so he decides to put some distance between them and maybe walk alone for a bit longer, give himself a bit more time to gather himself.  

Then something goes wrong and he loses his footing and his balance with it, his physical and mental state mirror each other.

As he looks up, he sees Yixing screaming at him, reaching down with his arms, swinging his open hands in the air. Jun realizes what is happening only when he hits his head and the light of the sun steadily grows dimmer.

The last thoughts crossing his mind tastes like guilt and a touch of satisfaction. A moment of selfishness makes him think he wouldn’t mind dying.

 

 

Separation papers and a few stitches at the back of his head are what he is bringing back home from this year's visit to The Bear's den .

He was lucky, his injury is not even close to being as bad as it could have been, the doctors never stop reminding him of it and allow him to go back home without too much protesting only two weeks after being admitted. Although, to make up for it, he's prescribed a scaringly long list of meds.

Yanli stayed by his side for the whole time, making abundantly clear the extent of her displeasure. Jun can't blame her, he's sure he wouldn't be happy to hear his significant other admitting to have cheated on him first thing after waking up from anesthesia either. The fault is only his and he deserves every consequence that will be thrown his way.

Even right now, as she drives him back home, she keeps her plucked eyebrows knitted and her eyes straight on the road.

Jun wants to apologize, wants to be able to say more than just the dry confession he got out half asleep on a hospital bed. He wants to take his responsibilities, this time his real ones, not those he himself created by lying to the most important people in his life. 

Realizing the meaninglessness of his actions was scaringly easy once he found himself confronting something as scary as death. Every certainty about his relationships, his work and his secrets, all of it is nothing more than bitter dust that he’s been throwing in his own eyes.

“The thing that pisses me off the most is that my mother was right.” Yanli breaks the silence, “Since you proposed she’s always been saying we were going to divorce.”

Jun keeps quiet, Yanli is not being serious, clearly trying to make the atmosphere less tense, despite the severe look on her face.

Jun hears her sigh and feels even worse. He feels horrible, his head hurts and he feels nauseous, he’s forced to come to terms with how many people he has hurt, while attempting to do the exact opposite.

All he needed was a nice, comfortable life that his parents could be proud of. So, how did it end up like this?

As those words echo in his head, Yanli pulls over and holds her head in her hands. Jun sees her narrow shoulders shake, her whole frame trembling with the quiet sobs breaking her voice. Jun’s own vision becomes blurry.

Soon enough they’re both crying in earnest and when Jun apologizes and reaches his hand out Yanli takes it, but doesn’t say anything.

 

 

Jun puts his hands on his hips and looks at the shiny, spotless golden letters of The Bear's Den ’s sign and releases a satisfied sigh.

In only one year since his last visit to his small corner of paradise on Earth, many things have changed.

Yanli and him are officially divorced, the process was amicable and their daughters were involved in the entire process, both of their parents made an effort to make them understand the reasoning behind their decision.

Finally, Jun alone has sat both Li and Yunying down and for once he talked about himself and not once slipped into his old habits and told nothing but the truth. It’s been hard and strange for him, he can only imagine how it must have felt for them, but Jun thought they deserved to be told the truth. Yunying still calls him at least once a week, Li, on the other hand, has distanced herself even more.

Jun crosses the threshold of the hotel entrance and doesn’t know how to feel at the amount of additional changes the reception went through.

The huge fake bear that has welcomed him every year since ‘96 is not there anymore, the same fate seems to have been reserved to the owner, whose jovial appearance has been replaced by someone who looks much different. 

“Good afternoon,” Jun greets as he walks to the welcome desk “I’m the new guide.”

Yixing raises his eyes from the register he was looking at and smiles widely, “Good afternoon! The boss said you can choose any room you want. I’ve decided to prepare the 106.” He slides a key over the desk, “The closest to mine.”

Jun feels like he’s still suspended, free falling down to the ground, but instead of fearing what obstacles he might find in the way, he’s letting himself enjoy the new life he has and hoping that somewhere there is a safe landing waiting for him.