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Now, the final chapter to "Not Me":
Yao places a single white peony next to the urn.
Somewhere higher up the mountain, a lone bird calls. The wind rustles through the treetops. It had required a long hike to get to the temple, but he had finally reached Kiku's final resting place.
It has taken a long time to get here. Nobody had urged Yao to visit the temple, nobody had offered to show him how to find it, and despite it all, Yao had managed to locate this secluded little sanctuary. Already superstitious, he was certain the way had appeared to him in his dreams.
A full year has passed since he was found and rescued by Ivan and his siblings. But in the process, both Kiku and Alfred died. Immediately after the incident, Yao was rushed to the hospital. During his recovery, his siblings were a constant presence surrounding him, shielding him from everyone, including Ivan.
The recovery was as smooth as one could be after being raped and tortured like a piece of dead meat. Yao was unable to talk for the first few months of the recovery session, and trembled violently whenever he was touched. Even the moments when he was aware somebody was entering his room, Yao's body would start shivering uncontrollably and readying itself for an onslaught of pain.
His voice had refused to return until his mental state had finally somewhat stabilized. Yet, after the entire ordeal, he was still mentally scarred into regarding himself as not something human. While the trained psychologists and psychiatrists tried to improve his mental health, Yao was drugged heavily with antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs, all to increase his perception of self worth and to reduce his suicidal tendencies.
When enough of it had passed, though, when the right time came around, he healed. It was as simple as that. Time softened the sharpest edges of his memories; it turned out to be the best healer. And his wounds slowly recovered, bit by bit. Finally, after a year, Yao returned back to the normal everyday world. He is neither as strong nor as normal as he used to be, yet now he is able to at least hold a typical conversation and live like he is human. Pretending to be human.
The dreams, though, haunted him. The dreams told him of a certain place; the place where Kiku lies forever. And he didn't know why or how or when; he was there without even consciously thinking of it.
Despite the filled rows above it, Kiku's urn is the only object sitting on its own shelf. Dust has gathered over time, and with his bare hand, Yao begins brushing it away. The wood of the shelf feels roughly hewn, but Yao does not stop dusting until the thickest coating starts to give way.
He gasps as he suddenly withdraws his fingers, grimacing at the splinter that opens on his thumb. The blood beads and drops onto his snow-white funeral clothes.
Yao looks at it a long time.
"Far," Sealand begins in a tone that catches Berwarld off guard. "Whatever happened to Mr. Arthur?"
Berwarld pauses only momentarily as he slices the potatoes. He places a few chips in a bowl before answering. "M'th'r d'dn't t'll y'?"
"Mother told me to ask you."
Berwarld puts away the paring knife and stares off into the corner. "'e died," he answers bleakly.
He looks down at the half-processed food. "Th' pol'ce t'k 'im away an' h'd 'im inst'tution'liz'd. 'e died there, six m'nths lat'r."
"Oh, Far." Sealand lets out a long, shuddering sigh. "And what about Uncle Mattie?"
"'ast I 'eard, 'e's st'll lookin' aft'r Alfr'd's th'ngs. H'ven't k'pt 'n touch. Le' it be. Wh't's done's done. Wh't's gone's gone."
"Thank you for meeting me here," Yao says gratefully.
"I think I like this restaurant," Ivan replies. He has to hunch over to fit in the seat. Beside them, the waiter moves about soundlessly, setting down congee into bamboo bowls. They are the only two patrons in this tiny eatery at the base of the mountain. "Have you decided?"
Yao takes off his shawl, which is covered in grime from the morning's hike. He hides a sad smile. "Not yet, Ivan. I still need more time."
Ivan opens his mouth to protest, snaps it shut, and starts talking in an almost mechanical tone. "I'll always be here for you. If you need me."
Yao finally allows himself to smile as he detects a hint of Wan's advice in Ivan's stiff mannerisms. Despite his sibling's dire warnings, he had contacted Ivan and had asked him to meet there. Ivan is strictly prohibited from meeting him by Yao's three siblings-musketeers. They guard Yao 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They had also forced Ivan to admit (again) that he was all to blame for Yao's current predicament, and he'd meekly accepted the restrictions. But the possessive thread that ran deep inside Ivan's veins couldn't prevent him forever from stalking Yao everywhere—a glimpse of a photo of Yao looking fine for the day was usually enough to satisfy Ivan. Yet when Yao himself called him, Ivan had dropped whatever he was doing, jumped from his seat and reached for the contact for his private jet immediately.
Yao in front of him is truly lovely; still as beautiful as ever. Alas, he is just a shell. The high-spirited, funny, old Yao would never come back. In front of him is the beautiful Yao trying to hold himself together like a normal person. Ivan knows that Yao has been unable to let people touch him for longer than a few moments at a time—even when Wan had once insisted on helping him take a bath. They'd rather die than blame Yao, for sure.
"I just have one question," Ivan says slowly, and Yao blinks, looking up in surprise. "Did you love him back?"
"What's that?" Yao asks almost-innocently, sipping his congee.
"Kiku." Ivan spits out. "Or- Arthur, for that matter."
Silence falls between them. For a second, Ivan regrets he even brought it up. Yao's eyes slowly start to lose focus as he opens his mouth. "Was Kiku's behavior- was that what you would call 'love'?" he finally intones.
"Answer the question," Ivan shoots back, with the faintest hint of chilliness.
Yao reaches out and touches Ivan's hand. He looks away, across the surrounding mountain range. Ivan holds his breath as he feels the familiar, oh so familiar feelings inside him starting to resurface. He could, he would tackle Yao right then and there, peel away his clothes and make love to him. Making love, like what the little florist company owner and him, the powerful magnate, used to do without a second thought. But he knows that even this loving and familiar touch would be impossibly difficult for Yao—even now the Chinese is visibly shaking. So Ivan values the mere touch of Yao's little hand and stays perfectly still, clenching his palm, trying to kill his lust.
At least Yao is able to touch him. To accept him as a 'harmless' friend. But the answer is taking so long; and Ivan fights a sinking feeling as he waits.
"I wanted to help him," Yao whispers into his bowl. Help? What help? He fails to understand the words pouring from his own mouth. But this is true, he misses the Japanese, after all that has happened.
"You cared for him?"
Did he…? Yes, a bit, if he is being honest to himself. Kiku was gentle and attentively took care of him during the last few days of Kiku's life, when it was only two of them. And during his imprisonment, Yao subconsciously knew that no matter what Arthur did, no matter how much Arthur raged, Kiku was there to prevent further damage on Yao without batting an eyelash. So, yes. Yes, he cared for Kiku.
Ivan clenches his hand and withdraws it slowly from Yao's touch.
"I wouldn't lie to—"
"I love you, Yao," Ivan says, in a different voice. "No matter what happens. I'll always be waiting for you."
Although neither admits it, they both know that Ivan might as well be waiting forever.
It isn't fair, but then again, love is never fair.
"They're ready to kill you for disappearing again without leaving a proper notice, you know."
As they exit the restaurant, Yao catches a glimpse of something poking out from the grass a few feet away. His heart leaps. It is a healthy and vibrant chrysanthemum, and it seems to bow at him as he approaches it.
As Ivan looks about curiously, Yao bends down and looks at the flower closely. Its petals flutter as though trying to signal a message.
"Wansui," Yao says softly.
"Sorry." He gets to his feet.
As they make their way onto the plain, Yao sees three familiar figures heading towards him in the near distance. One's hanbock sleeves keep smacking him in the face as he starts jogging faster, while another lifts up the hems of her pink robes as her semi-curly hair bounces against her back. The last figure, dressed in a red cheongsam, brushes aside his choppy hair and fixes Yao with a relieved, melancholic smile that goes right through his brother.
Yao grips the sleeves of his shawl and begins to run.