Yuan Hong knew he said something wrong, knew it the moment she froze. She stared at him as if she could see right through his mask. Emotions flashed across her face: shock, joy, sorrow, anger, pain. It would have been almost comical if it wasn't so alarming. Then to his utter horror, her eyes started to fill with tears.
"Are you OK?" he asked, startled
Yuan Hong had never, in his entire life, made a woman cried. Even as a child, he was always sweet and caring to his female classmates, never using bullying or teasing as a way to show affections as so many boys his age did. When he grew up, Yuan Hong knew that he preferred a commitment-free lifestyle and made sure that every girl he was with knew it too. He was always clear about his intentions so most of his breakups were amiable. Of course, there were always some exceptions. Several of his ex-girlfriends had tried to cling on to him, believing that they could change him. Some even used tears to get him to stay. But those tears don't count. They were caused by self-pity and desperation, not by him. But Zhang Xiao's tears were different. They were filled with sorrow, some deep sorrow that he doesn't understand but knew he was part of its cause.
He needed to do something, pat her back, get her a tissue, say some words of comfort, something, anything. But before Yuan Hong could form a coherent thought, Zhang Xiao suddenly grabbed her purse and took off. He could only sit there in shock. It took a minute before what just happened sank in and he started to run after her.
"Wait!" he called
She was already halfway to the exit by then and Yuan Hong could see her friends also trying to get to her. But Zhang Xiao ignored them and kept on running. By the time Yuan Hong reached the dance floor, he had already lost sight of her. Making way through the crowd of dancing people proved to be difficult, with flailing arms and legs everywhere, one which accidentally knocked Yuan Hong's mask off, but he didn't have time to worry about that now. When he finally got out of the club, Zhang Xiao was nowhere to be found. To his surprise however, he saw another familiar figure.
The guy turned around. It was indeed Lin Geng Xin.
"Hong Ge," he said, surprised, "What are you doing here?"
Before Yuan Hong could answer, however, Geng Xin laughed.
"Why did I even ask? It wouldn't be a party without Yuan Hong being here."
Yuan Hong smiled at him distractedly, still looking around for signs of Zhang Xiao.
"Listen, Xiao Xin," he said, "Did you a woman running out here? She was wearing a mini black dress and had her hair tied in a bun."
"Yes," Geng Xin answered, looking mildly surprised, "She was the one that had bumped into me then ran off."
"Where did she go?"
"Over there," Geng Xin replied, nodding towards the street, "but she had already gotten into a taxi and left."
Yuan Hong silently cursed, what was he supposed to do now?
"Hong Ge," Geng Xin said, looking at him suspiciously, "what did you do to her? She was crying as she ran away."
"Nothing!" Yuan Hong exclaimed, "I swear!" he added, when Geng Xin continued to glare at him
"I supposed," Geng Xin said doubtfully, "I mean, you're a playboy but you're not exactly an animal."
"Thanks," Yuan Hong said sarcastically, then rubbed his head wearily.
Did he do something?
Zhang Xiao lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling as she had been doing since she got home two hours ago. Her friends have called her ceaselessly from the moment she gotten in the taxi. She finally picked up with a short response saying that she was feeling sick then quickly hung up, turning off her phone. And now she lay there, with the night's events replaying in her head.
That face, Fourteenth prince's face.
It was the last face that she had saw in her life as Ruoxi. No, that wasn't quite true. In those last moments, in her mind, her eyes, there was only her Fourth prince. But, now, it was Fourteenth prince's face that kept on haunting her. He looked the same, yet different. Younger, happier. He was more like the Fourteenth prince she first met at Bei'le's manor than the one that had stayed with her during those final days. The latter had been filled with sorrow and anguish, some of which were caused by her. Seeing him now, with unbridled laughter in his eyes, was source of both relief and joy. She had always wanted him to be happy, even when she had hurt him with her selfish requests, hypocrite as she was.
Three sharp knocks on the door interrupted her thoughts. Zhang Xiao sat up, startled. Her friends wouldn't came here to check up on her would they? She considered not answering, but decided against it, knowing it would make her friends even more worried. Ruoxi was selfish but Zhang Xiao would be damned if she hurt her loved ones in the same way again. Pulling herself off the bed, Zhang Xiao went to open the door. Her friends, however, were not the ones standing on the other side.
"Ge," Zhang Xiao said, completely surprised.
Her brother, Zhang Ming, grinned at her, and held up two bags, "I bought you a late night snack," he said, making his way in.
Ever since her accident, her brother, a doctor working in Beijing, had transferred to Shenzhen to look after her and their parents. Though she was fine now, Ah Ming had decided to stay, claiming he was tired of Beijing's hectic lifestyle. Zhang Xiao, however, knew that he was doing this for her, evidence by the fact that he would drop by about every couples of days, which she believed might be due to their mother's promptings.
"I'll call mom tomorrow," Zhang Xiao said as her brother handed her a bowl of red bean soup, "so she won't keep bothering you."
"Don't think too much, alright?" Ah Ming said, "Can't I come because I miss my sister?"
Zhang Xiao rolled her eyes, "You just saw me the other day, Ge."
"Are you getting tired of your brother now?" Ah Ming teased, taking out the spoons, "You know what this reminds me of? Remember when we were kids, how we used to sneak to the kitchen and steal food when Mom and Dad were asleep?"
Zhang Xiao smiled. Yes, she remembered those days. They would eat slowly, careful not slurp or make any noise, then giggling at the silliness of it all. It wasn't even that they were hungry; they just love the thrill of sneaking out when they weren't supposed to. Growing up, her brother was her best friend. Their five years difference made him young enough to be her confidante and old enough to her protector. He had never waved her questions away as childish or quirky as their parents so often did but pondered about them carefully before giving her a serious answer. She used to be able to talk to him about everything, but…could she still?
"Ge," Zhang Xiao said hesitatingly, "Do you…believe in reincarnations?"
Her brother looked at her, "Why the sudden question?" he asked, mildly surprised
"I was just watching a drama on TV about it," she fibbed, "and it just made me think."
"Well," Ah Ming said slowly, "as a man of science, I should say no, but then again, science can't exactly explain everything. Working as a doctor, I've seen a lot of things that just defied logic. Miracles, if you will. There have been some patients who were pulled back from the brink of death and claimed to have seen the afterlife, or their previous reincarnations, or even the future. Of course, most of them are bogus or just hallucinations. But some do make you wonder. So I wouldn't say that I believe in reincarnations but to rule it out completely would be just plain ignorant."
"Then what if, just what if," she said, "you are one of those people who remembered their past reincarnation? And, in the present, you met some people that you knew in your previous lifetime, people you had loved, people you had suffered with, suffered for, caused suffering to. They don't remember you but you remember them. You remembered everything, the happiness, the pain, some which still lingers now. What would you do? Would you want them in your life again? Or would you be afraid that your fates will end in torture again?"
Her brother thought silently for a couple of minutes, "I don't know," he finally admitted, "but I think I would be overwhelmed at first. Though thinking about it carefully, if they are happy now, then I believed I would be happy too. If the past was filled with so much pain, then isn't better that they have forgotten about it? Though I might be a little sad, I would take their being able to move to mean that I would be able to too. If it's like that, then I would fold the past into a corner in my heart, never forgetting it, but also never letting blind my future. As for wanting them to be in my life, I think I would have to ask myself if I only want them as replacements or shadows of their previous reincarnations. If so, then it wouldn't be fair to them. But if I could accept that though their past is ingrained within them, they are now different people and if I could come to appreciate the them now, then yes, I would want them in my life again. I wouldn't let the fear of the past controlled me. If they were not the same person they were, and we are not in the same situation, then why would I have to worry about history repeating itself? Fate may knock you down once, but what's worse than falling down is staying down. Besides, most of the time, inaction do more damage than action does. I think as humans, we shouldn't let the past haunt us, or the future scare us, but just need to live happily each day in the present."
As she contemplates her brother's words, Zhang Xiao felt some of those dark shadows clinging on to her dissolving away.
Zhang Xiao left work feeling relax and free. She had apologized to her friends and they forgave her easily, merely teasing that she now owed them dinner. Being able to have that talk with her brother had enabled Zhang Xiao to take the first step to finding herself again. She didn't realize how much she needed to talk to someone about the situation. Though she wasn't able to tell him everything, as doing so would required her to relive the experience, something she didn't have the strength for yet, but, for now, it was enough. She smiled peacefully, taking in the beautiful weather today.
Zhang Xiao froze at hearing that familiar voice, the peaceful smile on her face slowly faded. The person that she was both longing and dreading to see was standing right in front of her.
"Zhang Xiao," Qi Long repeated, taking a step toward her.
'Q-Qi Long," Zhang Xiao stuttered, "What are you doing here?"
"Can we talk?" he asked simply
Zhang Xiao couldn't say anything and merely nodded.
They were sitting on a bench in the park near her company. Neither had said a single word walking here and now the silent was even more suffocating.
They paused, staring at each other.
"You go first," Zhang Xiao said, averting her gaze
Qi Long looked down, "Why did you leave the restaurant that day? Was it me? Did I do something wro-"
"No!" Zhang Xiao quickly interrupted, "You didn't do anything. It's not like that."
"Then what is it?"
"I…It's…" Zhang Xiao bit her lip; she doesn't want to lie to him, "I…saw someone I knew that day in the restaurant. Someone I didn't think I would see again. I was shocked and didn't know how to react, so I left. I'm sorry."
Qi Long was silent for second as he processed the information, "That person must have been someone you loved."
She didn't answer and he took her silence as confirmation.
"Then why wouldn't you pick up my calls?"
Zhang Xiao took a deep breath, no matter what, everything have to be resolved today.
"I want to tell you a story," she said, "about my last relationship."
Qi Long turned to listen intently, knowing somehow that this would be a major turning point for them.
"It wasn't an easy love," she started, "It took a lot for us to get together and a lot more for us to stay together. But it was very real and very true. We were happy together, trying to ignore all that would tear us apart. Slowly, though, it all became too much. Perhaps it was because that we love so much, that we found it so hard to forget and forgive. We both have things that we refused to let go of, and they built up to become an unbreakable wall between us. In the end, I chose to leave. It was a decision that broke both of our hearts, but it was one I don't regret. If I had stay, our love would slowly turn into hatred. We were walking on two very different paths and neither of us was willing to turn back. Only by leaving can I preserved our love. Only by leaving can I love him completely and selfishly, blocking off everything else. I thought I could live that, putting him in a protected corner in my heart. But then I met you, and," Zhang Xiao paused, knowing that her next words were very cruel but also knowing that they must be said, "And you remind me of him."
As expected, both shock and hurt filled Qi Long's eyes. He quickly looked away and silence descended upon them again.
"Was that why you were crying that day in the museum?" he finally asked
Zhang Xiao nodded.
"Did he hurt you that much?"
"It wasn't just him," she said, "We both hurt each other."
A few beats of silence, then, "Do you still love him?"
"Yes," Zhang Xiao answered, without a trace of doubt in her voice, "And I think I always will. But I want to move on. I desperately want to move on."
"Do you think you could? With me?"
Zhang Xiao looked at him, infinite tenderness in her eyes, "I don't know," she admitted, but her voice was filled with longing.
"I'm not him," Qi Long declared firmly
"I know," she whispered, but even as she spoke those words, Zhang Xiao couldn't help but think of how the determination in his eyes was so very much like Fourth prince
"And I refused to be his replacement,"
Zhang Xiao nodded. She expected this, that he would end it. After all, it was the normal thing to do. But then why does it hurts so much?
"Therfore," he continued, "I want you, no, I need you, to see me as Qi Long. To start again with me, Qi Long."
Zhang Xiao's eyes widened in surprised as Qi Long turned and looked at her.
"I am Wu Qi Long," he stated, "I was class president all the way up to secondary school. I love studying and was always in the top three of my class. I also love sports, especially Taekwondo. But I disliked partying and hate fighting. I think Ferris Wheels are the scariest things in the world. I preferred handwritten letters to emails. I also love my job. I think the excitement of seeing numbers and being able to predict its changes is exhilarating. I also think that, that I'm falling for you and falling hard."
Zhang Xiao stared at him silently, an air of slight awkwardness surrounding them.
"Say something," Qi Long begged
She blinked, and blinked again, finally, "You're scared of Ferris Wheels?"
"W-well," he said, slightly flustered, "it's just that it's so big and moves so slow. You don't know when it's going to stop and when it does, you don't know if it will move again. If it doesn't then you're just stuck there, miles off the ground and-"
Qi Long stopped when he realized Zhang Xiao was giggling. He tried to glare at her but it only made her laughed even harder. Her laughter was infectious and, after a few seconds of resisting, Qi Long finally joined in.
"So she told you that you remind her of her ex-boyfriend and your response was that you were scared of Ferris Wheels?" Yuan Hong asked
They were at Qi Long's house as he replayed what have happened earlier that day to his cousin.
"Why does everyone harp on that?" Qi Long moaned, "What about the part where I said I'm falling for her? Wasn't that romantic?"
Yuan Hong rolled his eyes, "And what did she say after she finished laughing at the idiot you are?"
Qi Long glared at him, then sighed, "She asked for some time to think it through. She said she'll call tomorrow."
"That sounds like a line," Yuan Hong said, taking a bite into his apple, "She probably thinks that you're desperate or crazy."
Qi Long's hands twitched, thinking of how satisfying it would be to send the sofa cushion flying into his cousin's face. He took a deep breath, quelling the temptation.
"At least now I know why she was crying that day," Qi Long said
Yuan Hong sat up straight, "Wait, she cried in front of you too?"
"Yeah," Qi Long answered, "It was on the day we met. She must hav-"
He stopped midway and turned to his cousin, "What do you mean... she cried in front of me too? Who else did she cried in front of?"
Yuan Hong froze, realizing his slip, "Ah…umm…I just mean that…girls like to cry…so…she cries in front you, she cries in front of the mirror, she cries in front of her parents. Oh, look at the time, I got to go."
"Xiao Hong," Qi Long said sternly
Squirming under his stare, Yuan Hong sat back down. His cousin doesn't use Yuan Hong's nickname often, but when he does, it was serious.
"You see…" Yuan Hong started, then proceed to telling him the whole story.
"XIAO HONG!" Qi Long yelled when he finished, his hand clenched to the cushion, the temptation stronger than ever
"Before you do anything rash," Yuan Hong said, putting his hands up defensively, "Remember that I did that out of brotherly love, brotherly love."
Qi Long closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. It was a couple of minutes before he could speak again.
"What if you two met in the future?" he asked through clenched teeth
"That would require her actually wanting to see you again." Yuan Hong reminded him
Qi Long started to pull the cushion out.
"I meant," Yuan Hong quickly backtracked, "You don't have to worry about that. I was wearing a mask then. Even if we met again, she wouldn't recognize me."
Qi Long slowly lowered his arm, "I can't believe you made her cry," he groaned
"I didn't do anything!" Yuan Hong exclaimed, "I swear, she just started crying out of the blue. Maybe I remind her of her ex-boyfriend too?" he stopped, "No, that couldn't be it. I mean, though we are cousins, we look nothing alike. I'm way more handsome than you are. Also I was wearing a mask that day. But then again, what mask can hide my beauty, and that would explain why she has so much trouble letting go of the guy. Oh, I know. Maybe he looks like me but acts like you. A handsome guy with an obsessive disorder. I heard that girls tend to go for guys like that these days."
This time Qi Long didn't even try to resist. The smack as the cushion came in contact with Yuan Hong's face was very satisfying.
Zhang Xiao sat blankly on her bed. She doesn't know what to think. She would be lying if she said that Qi Long's words today didn't touch her or made her happy. But could she really be with him? Though there were parts of Fourth prince in him, but he could never be Fourth prince, she needed to remember that. It was impossible for her to completely separate the two, of course, but she couldn't just transfer her love from Fourth prince to him either. Could she love Qi Long as Qi Long? She had to figure out the answer now. It wouldn't be fair to ask him to wait any longer. If she couldn't, then she needed to stay out of his life forever.
As soon as those words enter her mind, Zhang Xiao finally knew what her answer was.
Qi Long's eyes strayed from the report he was reading to his phone on the desk, then back up again. It was almost noon yet no calls had come in, at least none from Zhang Xiao.
"A watched pot never boils," Yuan Hong said from his spot on the office couch, "A watched phone never rings."
Qi Long glared at his cousin, "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
"Nope!" Yuan Hong replied gleefully, "I cleared up my schedule for the whole day to keep you company. I don't want you to wait for the judgment alone. Aren't you touched? I must be the nicest cousin in the world. I didn't even get mad at you for almost scarring this masterpiece face of mine."
Qi Long opened his mouth, then closed it again, deciding it would be a waste of breath to answer him. Suddenly, his cell phone started to vibrate. Both he and Yuan Hong jumped at the same time. It was Zhang Xiao's number. Gesturing for his cousin to be quiet, Qi Long picked up the phone.
"Hello?" he answered, silently cursing the obvious nervousness in his voice
"Qi Long?" Zhang Xiao's gentle voice greeted him, "It's me, Zhang Xiao."
"Zhang Xiao, hi." He would have recognized her voice from a mile away
"I was wondering," she said, "if you're not busy, could you meet me today after work? In front of that museum where we first met?"
"Of course," he replied
"Alright. I'll see you then."
Qi Long stared at the phone in his hand, allowing time for his heart to calm down.
"What did she say? What did she say?" Yuan Hong asked
Qi Long stared at him, "I swear, you're like a nosy housewife. She just said she wants to meet after work."
"That's it?" Yuan Hong said, disappointed, "Nothing else?"
Qi Long shook his head and once again, picked up his report.
Yuan Hong sat down in front of him, "Ge, can I ask you something?"
"I'm sure you will anyway," Qi Long replied, not bothering to look up
"Why her?" Yuan Hong asked, "Why Zhang Xiao?"
Qi Long looked up then, noting the rare serious tone in his cousin's voice.
"I mean," Yuan Hong continued, "I know you and if it was any of your ex-girlfriends had told you what Zhang Xiao did, I'm sure you would have ended it right then and there. You're not heartless but you're not exactly the kind of guy who would pine after a girl either. So why is Zhang Xiao so special?"
Qi Long thought for a while before speaking.
"She's warm," he finally said, "She exudes warmth. And it felt like home, being next to her."
Yuan Hong stared at Qi Long for a while before suddenly rummaging through his desk.
"What are you doing?" Qi Long asked, taken aback
"Looking for a pen and paper," Yuan Hong replied, "I need write that stuff down. It's going to be a hit with the girls at the clubs."
He jumped back just in time to avoid Qi Long's swinging hand and fell onto the couch, grinning under the latter's glare. All teasing aside, however, Yuan Hong thought he could understand just what his cousin meant.
"Zhang Xiao," Qi Long said, running over to her, "I'm so sorry. I got stuck in traffic and-"
"It's alright," Zhang Xiao interrupted, "We still got time," she nodded towards the museum, "Today's the last day for the Qing Dynasty exhibit. I thought it would be nice if we could see it again together."
Qi Long nodded dumbly, as thoughts raced through his head.
What is this? A final farewell at the place where they first met? It couldn't be right? This isn't an idol drama after all.
"That was a great exhibit," Zhang Xiao said as they were walking out of the museum a couple of hours later
Qi Long nodded in agreement, "I can't believe you know so much about the Qing history," he commented, "If I didn't know better, I would have thought that you were the museum guide."
Zhang Xiao smiled but said nothing.
"It's late. Do you want grab dinner together?" Qi Long asked
Zhang Xiao stopped walking. She suddenly turned around to look at the museum one more time.
"Tomorrow, the exhibit will be gone," she said softly, as if to herself, "All of the past will be wrapped up and move away. Only memories remains."
Sensing a change in her mood, Qi Long stood still. Zhang Xiao slowly turned towards him.
"Before we go any further," she said, "there's something I have to say."
Qi Long nodded, knowing that her next words will determined both of their fates.
"I am Zhang Xiao," she stated, "I was never bad in school but never excellent either. When young, I was forced by my mother to learn dancing and singing, in attempts to make me more ladylike. Though the plan failed, I learned to love both hobbies. I also like to cook but only occasionally. I'm a very picky eater. I'm not good at any sports but I love horse riding. I like rodeos but hate clowns. And I, I want to start over with you, Wu Qi Long."
Qi Long stared at her, the words slowly sinking in. A silly smile crept onto his face. Zhang Xiao extended her hand, smiling back at him. Qi Long took her hand in his, noting how it seems to fit perfectly and how, the moment their eyes met, everything seemed to melt away, leaving only him and her.
After hundreds of years, this was their fated beginning.
A/N: I admitted that when I started this fanfic, this was where I wanted to end. But now that I got here, I don't want to stop. I always hated dramas that end when the main OTP had just gotten together. There just seems to be so much more to be told. The beginning of a relationship doesn't mean the end to the story. Also, BBJX was as much of the princes' story as it was Ruoxi's. I want to explore more in the characters of "modern" Thirteenth and Fourteenth, and maybe adding Eight to the mix as well. There's also the relationship between Huang Di and Zhang Xiao, as well as Zhang Xiao and her brother (who I originally wanted to be based off of Hu Ge but, for some reason, when I was writing, I kept on picturing Huang Xiao Ming instead). To be honest, these are just reasons I'm giving because I'm not ready to give up BBJX just yet. So, for clarity's sake, the story "officially" ends here, but I will continue on. However, there are no plans in my head as to what happens next, not even the roughest outline. Most of you may just stop reading here, letting the rest unfolds itself inside your own imaginations. But I do hope some of you will stay with me as we delve further into my imagination. Just a warning, it will be a wild ride, but hopefully, a fun one as well.