→ Blanket Scenario AU; In which a series of mostly unfortunate events lead to Tao and Kris being trapped in a cabin during a blizzard.
Approximately two years ago, Kris's grandmother had gotten in her head that the lobby ought to have a television like the other, fancier hotel resorts did--and not just any ordinary twelve-inch-digital-whatever ones, no, she wanted one of those 70-inch-widescreen-HD-plasma-or-somethin
Two days later, they lost the remote control. It wouldn't have been a problem if, say, the television wasn't completely remotely operated or if it wasn't stuck on the channel that ran marathon reruns of old Korean dramas, but such was Kris's luck. At least it was stuck on mute so he didn't have to hear the dubbed voices and therefore understand anything at all that was going on.
"Why are they in the hospital again?" Tao asked, squinting in confusion. "I thought her mom was in remission--unless she was wearing a bald cap for some other reason."
"Yeah, but she had a relapse and fainted or something," Kris answered lifelessly, face propped against his elbow. "Right now, her brother's in the hospital because he got hit by a car. I think." Never mind that, despite multiple slow-motion replays from different angle of him landing on his arm, the patient seemed only to have sustained injuries to his head.
Right then, the plain-but-pretty heroine threw open the doors to the hospital room, hair artfully disheveled and face carefully contorted with pain. Her mouth opened and closed rapidly as she ranted soundlessly at the figure on the bed, who gaped back at her wordlessly. Suddenly, without warning, she leapt across the divide and kissed him hard on the lips.
In real life, their audience jerked backwards, startled.
“Are you sure that's her brother?” Tao asked faintly.
Kris opened his mouth and then closed it. "Not anymore, I'm not.”
Half an hour later, they gave up trying to make sense of the plot and instead resumed their normal game of substituting in their own masterfully hilarious dialogue. In the middle of a voice-over just on the wrong side of appropriate, Kris's grandmother walked in from the back entrance holding a rolled up newspaper in one hand and a broomstick in the other. She scowled at them. "I don't pay the two of you to sit around and watch television all day."
"Grandma, you don't pay me anything," Kris pointed out.
"I pay you once a year on New Years," she snapped back. The broomstick quivered threateningly in her hand. "Who gives you the biggest red envelope every year?"
"Uncle Tang," he answered without hesitation. Immediately, Granny Wu smacked him on the back of his head with the newspaper. Kris cried out on cue, but really, it was a downright victory that she hadn't used the handle end of the broomstick instead.
"Keep talking and I won't feed you anymore, Wu Yifan. You'll shrivel up into even more of a twig and die--how about that?"
Tao perked up. "Does that mean breakfast is ready?"
"Yes, yes it does." Kris replied solemnly. "You finally mastered Grandma's secret language. It's only been, what, ten years? Congratulations. We're so proud."
"Shut up," Tao returned good-naturedly, and allowed Kris to drag him into the kitchen by the front of his shirt. Granny Wu, stilling muttering grievances under her breath, settled slowly onto one of the rickety old stools at the front desk to await the first guests of the day.
They had met a little under a decade ago, on the grand opening of his grandparents' mountaintop resort. Kris's first impression of Tao, all bundled up in his puffy green jacket and poof-ball hat, was that he was a very strange, squishy looking turtle. Back then, Kris had been as sullen and petulant as a third grader stuck working during holidays could be, and had disliked everything about the resort on principle--the local cable operator and his squishy turtle of a son by extension. At an age when five and eight seemed so impossible to bridge, it seemed a mutual agreed upon avoidance.
Everything changed when Tao walked into the lobby one summer playing Dynasty Warriors on a shiny new PSP and, after catching Kris eyeing it enviously, had offered it to him with a smile. They were inseparable after that. Tao started spending more time in the resort itself, and ended up making himself so useful that Granny Wu decided it was prudent to put him on the payroll. A few years later, when Mr. Huang got promoted to the corporate office, they got to keep Tao.
"Are you gonna finish that?" Somehow, Tao had managed to devour all four of his pork buns in the time it took Kris to finish his first. Kris rolled his eyes, but slid his plate over as Tao's eyes glinted greedily.
"Eat too much of that and you're going to turn into a pork bun yourself," Kris said.
Tao tilted his head in a mocking imitation of innocence. "If I turned into a giant pork bun, you'd protect me from the hordes of angry people who wanted to eat me, wouldn't he?"
It shouldn't have been half as endearing, especially with both pockets of his mouth stuffed full with food, but Kris couldn't help but smile, even as the motion caused the rarely exercised muscles of his face to creak with exertion. He would've passed over half his plate anyway, it wasn't as though he needed the energy, just sitting around at the front desk all day. Tao, on the other hand, who ran around performing maintenance on everything from the main site to the honeymooners' cabins, did. Plus, he still had that whole 'growing boy' thing going for him.
"Of course I'd save you," Kris answered, just to be difficult. "If you were a giant pork bun, you'd be able to feed me for days."
They emerged from the kitchen to find Granny Wu staring at the TV, enraptured by the impending showdown promised between the plain-but-pretty heroine and the flashy-and-heavily-made-up heiress. The guestbook was empty, and Kris made a mental note to bring this up the next time she punted him out of bed at six in the morning.
"Grandma?" Granny Wu didn't answer. Kris tried again. When she ignored him the third time, Kris said loudly, "If you're going to watch the front, can I go back to bed?"
"What? No, no, I'm leaving." She pulled out the stool beside her without taking her eyes off the TV. With a defeated sigh, Kris sat. Tao hopped onto the countertop and they watched as head-injury-not-brother grabbed the wrist of plain-but-pretty heroine and dragged her away as flashy-and-heavily-made-up heiress outraged. It took the confessional open-eyed kiss to break the spell, and a second before their lips touched, Granny Wu stood up abruptly.
"Tch, kids these days," she muttered, shaking her head as she busied herself with the stack of papers. Kris used to find her discomfort with overdramatic kiss scenes a lot funnier before he came face to face with one of his own; but that was another story.
"Lots to do today," Tao commented, looking over the sheet of paper she'd handed him. Kris got his own moments later, a schedule of check-ins and check-outs. He frowned. His was a full day too, and usually their busy-times didn't overlap.
"Why is there such a big gap between noon and five?" Kris asked. His eyes narrowed as he glanced down the list. Usually, the arrivals and departures were staggered, but today, there were two huge blocks of people checking in; one block at ten and the other at five-thirty. "Why are there so many people today?"
"Oh, we did one of those vacation package deals again," his grandmother said, waving her hand carelessly. "Lots of people flying in at the same time. The first plane landed an hour ago, so they should be here any moment now."
Kris resisted the urge to face-palm. Vacation package deal days were the worst--caught between the frenzy of self-important paying customers and the doldrums of having nothing to do with nothing in the middle.
"If you're bored, you can come with me," Tao piped up, as though he'd read Kris's mind. His eyes glinted mischievously. "I could teach you how to replace a pipe without flooding the basement." Kris made a face at him, but before he could defend himself, his grandmother interrupted.
"No, no, just sit there and look nice," she said, taking a strong hold of his cheek and squeezing it painfully. "Your face is good for business. Our guests have been so much more well-behaved since your acne cleared up."
"Grandma!" Kris protested, mortified.
Tao, good friend that he was, laughed so hard he fell off the countertop.
The first bus arrived promptly at ten and Granny Wu beat a hasty retreat to the back office, giving Kris a pointed look as though daring him to disturb her. Times like these, Kris wished his grandfather was still around to help deal with people, but he squared his shoulders and slipped on the mask of a good host. He greeted the regulars and suffered through their exclamations of how much he'd grown and how tall he was now and--yes, he was in college and he was studying hard, thank you. He smiled politely at the newcomers and was every bit a consummate professional for two hours, right up until he came face to face with the last person in line.
The mask slipped.
"What are you doing here?" he asked flatly.
Luhan's shiny brown eyes blinked with an guilelessness that fooled absolutely no one. Not even Kris. Especially not Kris. Luhan smiled brightly. "I came to visit my favorite underclassman," he said, putting his tiny face between the palms of his hand. "Now give gege a hug."
Kris stared back, unmoved. "I'm not your favorite underclassman."
"Okay, you're not," Luhan said, still cheerful even as a sliver of evil slithered through. "I don't even have a favorite underclassman. You're losing to nobody."
"How did you even get here?" Kris asked, crossing his arms. "It's two hours by train."
"I ran really, really fast." Luhan rolled his eyes. "Of course I took the train, you idiot. You whined so much about having to come back here, so I finally made time to come see you. I would've dragged Yixing along, but the last time I tried to get him out of bed before two in the afternoon on a weekend, he brained me with his alarm clock."
"Oh," Kris said intelligently. He didn't think he complained that much anymore, at least, not in the last few years. Admittedly, he had deflated a bit after learning that his new status as a university student didn't exempt him from having to come back up here, but he didn’t remember bringing it up except in passing. Yixing had patted him on the shoulder sympathetically and Luhan had taken exactly three seconds to look contrite before launching back into a recitation of his own first world problems--but Kris hadn't thought they'd make the effort. Yet here Luhan was. Two hours on the deathtrap that was the only train to come into town, that took some effort.
"Hey grandma," Kris called out toward the back office. "My friend came to visit, can he come behind the counter?"
Granny Wu poked her head out of her office and Luhan waved at her, smiling winningly. Her eyes swept over him appraisingly, and then she jerked her head. "He can stay."
Whooping, Luhan hopped over the barrier and sat himself down on the other rickety old stool. Suddenly, he stilled. "I think your grandma just checked me out."
"Yeah," Kris sighed. "You'll get used to that."
They're arguing over whether basketball or soccer required greater athleticism (basketball, duh) while tossing a hacky sack back and forth with progressive violence, when Tao wandered in from the cold. His eyebrows lifted when he noticed that Kris wasn't alone, and Luhan took advantage of Kris staring at Tao's eyebrows to lob the hacky sack directly at his face.
Kris glared. Luhan grinned maniacally.
"Tao, this is my senior from university." Kris said aloud, firing the hacky sack so it hit the inside of Luhan's lower calves with a satisfying smack. "Luhan, Huang Zitao."
Luhan, cheap bastard that he was, aimed his next shot at No Man's Land. Then he and Tao shook hands and exchanged pleasantries as Kris writhed on the floor.
"...and I'm his favorite upperclassman." Luhan picked up the hacky sack from where it'd landed after the knockback and tossed it between his hands threateningly. "Isn't that right, Kris?"
"He's not my favorite. Don't trust him," Kris wheezed as he rolled over, clutching at his junk. "He's a hateful little man. Save yourself."
"Um." Tao glanced uncertainly between Luhan's smiling face and Kris's twitching heap. He toed his way over by Kris's side, bent over, and laid a hand on Kris's shoulder. "...are you going to be okay?" Kris made a noise he hoped sounded like a yes. Later, retellings of this story drew up comparisons to a dying goat.
Right now, Tao turned back toward Luhan, still unsure. "I just wanted some food," he said, almost shyly.
"Oh, don't let us stop you," Luhan said happily. "Don't worry about Kris, he'll be fine."
Tao, bless his heart, turned back to Kris, still concerned. "Are you sure?"
Kris struggled to sit up. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. It was exceedingly difficult for Kris to throw a dirty look at someone (or look anywhere else, frankly) with Tao in such close proximity, so Kris waited for Tao to disappear through the back doors before leveling a death glare at that asshole, Luhan.
Completely unaffected, Luhan leaned back against the counter. "So," he said, the level tone of his voice incongruent with the shit-eating grin plastered across his face. "That's him then? "
His knee-jerk reaction was a panicked denial--of what exactly, Kris didn't even know, only that Luhan knowing about Tao was somehow A Very Bad Thing. But then he caught himself and remembered who he was talking to, and that they'd known each other for so long this was probably just another bullet in the ocean of ammunition he had on Kris.
"Yeah, that's him." He said simply.
In an instant, Luhan's expression shifted into something softer, more sympathetic--a change that was disturbing on multiple levels. "That was easy," Luhan said, almost to himself. "So if you're aware of your giant embarrassing crush on him, then why haven't you done anything about it?"
Kris lowered his gaze and shrugged.
"Does he not like you?"
Kris jerked his shoulder noncommittally.
"My god, it's like pulling teeth," Luhan muttered, dragging his palm down the front of his face.
It came back to him in bits and pieces: an offhand mention of the kid in the cable cars amidst a flurry of complaints about the rusticity of his lodgings, a glowing review of the video game and the boy who'd graciously provided the console. They'd go shopping and Kris would see Tao in everything from the hat on the mannequin to the trendy new beverage imported from Taiwan. He'd hear a new song and sent it without thinking twice. They'd be studying for class and Kris's mind would wander to the phone number in his address book and whether enough time had passed between the last time either of them just said 'Hi'. Kris didn't remember once voicing any of this aloud, but evidently, Luhan had been paying closer attention than he thought.
"I don't want to talk about it," he mumbled at last.
Luhan frowned. Between the two of them, even though Luhan was much more open about his problems, Kris knew that Luhan liked to think Kris could come to him for anything which, for the most part, was true. In fact, he almost felt guilty for having not confided earlier; but Tao wasn't someone he could talk about easily.
"Fine," Luhan said at last. "So, there's this kid in my biology class..."
Kris relaxed, ever so. The world felt more in balance whenever Luhan was whining about things of no particular importance.
"His name is Sehun and at first I thought he was foreign exchange, but then turns out he's one of those Beautiful Mind socially awkward genius types. He came in as a freshman, but he's like sixteen--don't you look at me like that, your Huang Zitao isn't that much older. Anyway, I practice Korean with him--"
"Why do you need practice?" Kris cut in. "You didn't even need your guidebook when you went to Seoul last summer."
"Yeah, but he doesn't know that--stop interrupting. Anyway, he says that he won't learn Chinese if I keep speaking Korean with him, but then he calls me for help translating vocabulary --and I've seen his pop quiz scores. Genius. Doesn't need any help from me. My point is," Luhan paused and then very seriously said: "I will have him."
Kris blinked. "That's not psychotic," he said mildly.
"You'd think that," Luhan said. "But you don't know this kid, and also you're stupid. He's always smiling when he's around me , but Baozi tells me he's never seen Sehun laugh before. Half of the time, it's him who calls me out to study, and every time we go out for bubble tea, he 'accidentally' pays for it. Now, I realize I have the benefit of not being stupid--" Kris snorted unkindly--"but do you not see the similarities here?"
"Um, " Kris replied with some confusion toward the extremely meaningful look Luhan was sending in his direction. "I'm not following."
"Oh my god," Luhan moaned, covering his face with his hands. Kris wondered if he should be offended, but then Luhan's head snapped back up. "Okay, new tactic. I like my person and I'm going to do something about it. Since you and--" he jerked his head toward the kitchen to punctuate his statement--"clearly feel the same way about each other, you should say something before the both of you decide it's safer to just be friends."
Kris felt his stomach roll over. "Tao doesn't..."
"I highly doubt he sacrifices his summers and winters for the money or the scenic view," Luhan said dryly.
"Tao doesn't..." Kris repeated unhappily.
Luhan looked at Kris with something like pity right then, but eventually, he relented and the topic turned toward the silent television running faithfully in its corner of the lobby. He wanted to say something, wanted to break his silence on the events from year ago when he'd held Tao in his arms for the first time, and then the nothing-else that had followed.
But it wasn't anyone else's business but his own, so Kris said nothing.
"He left already?" Tao had emerged from the kitchen holding two mugs of ginger tea. "Granny thought he was going to stay for dinner, she's making enough food to feed a small country."
"Yeah, he had to go, said something about leaving before all the trains shut down." Kris said, pulling out the other stool. "We should really tell her that he left."
But the smell of prawns had wafted in when Tao opened the back door, and neither of them budged from their seat. Tao shuffled forwards toward Kris so he could be in view of the television; but neither of them were looking now.
"So..." Tao ventured, staring straight ahead. "Friend of yours?"
"Hmm?" Kris licked his lips as he set his drink down. "You mean Luhan? Yeah, old friend."
Tao glanced down and scratched at the ceramic wall of his mug. The motion caught Kris's eye and he stared out the corner of it. "From high school?"
Kris grimaced. "Elementary."
Tao's eyebrows arched. "That's..."
"Horrible?" Kris supplied helpfully. Tao let out a breath of laughter and Kris mirrored the action without thinking. "He was scouting me for the soccer team while I was in line to try out for the basketball team," Kris explained. "I didn't join either team that year, but we were friends after that."
"You didn't get into the basketball team? That's hard to believe."
Kris shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and then admitted reluctantly, "That was the year Luhan was taller than me."
The mouthful of tea Tao had just sipped promptly fell into his lap, and Tao cackled as Kris protested in vain.
"You know what he said to me?" Tao asked suddenly, after the laughter had finally ceased and he'd resumed staring at his hands. "He said, 'It's nice to finally meet you'. How did...do you talk about me?"
"What." Kris said, and cleared his throat nervously. "Well, yeah. We hang out and talk and stuff."
"Hnn," Tao said, then nothing else.
"I mean, college is pretty boring," Kris shrugged. "It's just more interesting to...talk about other stuff."
"Uh-huh," Tao replied mildly. "Good to know I'm slaving through entrance exams for even more boring stuff."
Kris flushed and tried again. "Well, the studying part is," he said. "But outside of that, it's...it's fine. Not as interesting as all--" he waved his hand vaguely at their surroundings. On television, the hero of the story walked through the streets in slow-motion, crying silently to himself.
"You don't go out? Meet people?"
"Sometimes?" Kris said uncertainly, wondering if being dragged out to hasty dinners with Lay and playing online games with Luhan's friends from South Korea counted as 'meeting people'.
"Aiya," Tao sighed in defeat. "I don't even get home until midnight because of cram school, and all I have to look forward to is more studying? At this rate, I might as well just take the test and see what happens. Who knows, at worst I can probably still get into your university."
"Hey," Kris said, offended, and shoved Tao (who was laughing again) off his stool.
Their attention turned back to the television shortly after Tao sat back down and noticed a sudden explosion onscreen. But Kris would glance at Tao out of the corner of his eye every now and then, and despite their ease slipping back into the familiarity of ripping apart whatever was on television, he couldn't help but feel as though, for the first time, there were more things left unsaid than stated between them.
Last winter, there had a been a snowstorm, as big as the one Luhan had promised would hit before he dove out the front door. Tao had been working that day, and had made it in just fine; but the lifts had shut down long before the day was over.
"Of course you'll stay here for the night," Granny Wu had said in a tone that broached no argument. "Yifan has room--don't you, Yifan?"
"Um," Kris had replied, thinking of his "room", which was more the size of a very large closet than it was an actual place of occupancy. Its adjoining bathroom was actually bigger than the room itself, which was just wrong in so many ways.
"Don't you, Yifan?" Granny had said sharply, and so it was that night, after loitering in the lobby for as long as they could stand, that Tao followed Kris down to the last hall on the first floor--the actual furthest point from the front desk. It was strange, Kris noted, as he turned the key to his room. In all the years Tao had been coming over, he'd never once seen the cubby hole that Granny had stuffed Kris into.
"Holy crap!" Tao yelped, throwing his arms around himself reflexively as the door swung open. "Why is it so cold?"
"Um," Kris said. "Granny keeps forgetting to fix the heater."
(More accurately, the heater had never been installed. In the summer, Kris could get by with electric fans, but during the winter, he was on his own. No reason Tao had to know though, his situation was tragic enough as it was.)
"You sleep in here? Without heat?" Tao asked, appalled.
"...yes?" Tao was looking him with an unreadable expression, Kris guessed somewhere between pity and bemusement. It wasn't a good look. Kris frowned. "Don't look at me like that."
Tao's lower lip pushed out and he reached up so he could ruffle Kris's hair. "But you're so sad--"
"Stop." Kris grumbled, shoving the offending hand away as Tao huffed laughter over his chattering teeth. "There's clean clothes in the chest next to the shower, make sure you wear a sweater before you come out here."
"Yes, mother," Tao answered, deftly avoiding the half-hearted whack Kris sent in his direction. The water started running and Kris crawled beneath the saving grace that was two layers of inch-thick comforters to wait his turn. But then it kept running and kept running, until Kris heard a startled yowl and Kris couldn't help but grin because--yep, Tao used up all the hot water. Moments later, Tao emerged from the bathroom. "Sorry," he said apologetically.
Kris glanced up from his phone and found Tao standing in the doorway, cheeks flushed, hair still wet from the shower, in a pair of Kris's old athletic pants and a truly hideous sweater he forgot he had. It was thick enough, certainly, but there were neon colored skulls scattered all over the the front of it, and Kris had been so horrified by its existence that he'd stuffed it in the bottom of the trunk and left it there. Tao was peering at him expectantly.
"No, it's fine," Kris said. " I shower in the mornings anyway. "
His face still tinged red, Tao wandered over toward the corner where his backpack was, and stuffed his clothes in. His hair was still spiked, despite its dampness, and Kris noticed a droplet of water sliding down the back of his neck, and down the collar of his shirt. Tao flipped through the pages of his phone, rubbed his palm following the path of the droplet, and suddenly, Kris wondered if Tao's hair would stick up in the morning if he went to bed with it wet. He wondered if Tao was a morning person, if he would be the one ripping the covers off the bed or if he would be the one burrowed in the warmth, begging in vain for just five minutes more.
He got an image in his head then, a sleepy-eyed, hoarse-voiced, lazy-smiled Huang Zitao, who would huddle closer and peck him on the lips, morning breath and all. He'd like that, probably more than he'd ever admit.
Kris snapped out of his reverie to the sound of a phone joining with its charger, and he blinked rapidly, shaking the fantasy from his mind. Tao rose to his feet, shivering violently as he did.
"Hey," Kris called out as he lifted the corner of his covers. "Come here."
And Tao went.
The realization that the bed was way too small to accommodate two almost fully-grown human beings was immediate and horrifying. Kris ended up with his back to the wall and Tao smushed right up against him, with only a small pocket in between their arms, held up like shields, and their legs, tangled together. Briefly, Kris wondered if it'd be less awkward if Tao was facing the other way, but then he envisioned being the big spoon, and decided that this was probably for the best.
"You have no room," Tao said crossly, staring hard at a spot just past Kris's ear.
"The guest rooms are all booked up," Kris pointed out, sounding very reasonable even to himself. "She's not gonna let you squat in the lobby like a hobo."
Tao made a disgruntled noise, and slid his hand under Kris's shirt, poking him hard in the tickle spot. In the ensuing chaos of Kris's manly shriek and mad spasms, the only thing keeping Tao from falling out of bed was his grip on the front of Kris's shirt.
"This is kind of my favorite sweatshirt," Kris complained, smoothing it out, gazing mournfully at the stretch lines.
Tao scowled petulantly. "I'm not a hobo."
"Yeah you are," Kris said, grinning. "We fed you, clothed you, and housed you. Total hobo. Our hobo."
Tao kicked at him half-heartedly, but then he was smiling too.
At some point, lulled by the warmth under the covers, they stopped sniping at each other long enough to fall asleep. It was easy and fitful right up until he awoke unexpectedly in the middle of the night. The clock on the wall showed a time that would normally make him roll back over and snore louder, but then he heard a deep inhalation close--too close--and forgot to breathe.
Tao was caged inside his arms, sleep-soft, lips parted, and lashes dark against his cheek. His fingers were splayed loosely on Kris's hip and his hair stuck up right underneath Kris's nose, where he could smell his own shampoo, and Tao beneath that. They said people looked younger when they were asleep, but with his normal impish smile absent, Tao actually looked older--or, at least, more mature.
He'd never given much credence to acknowledging his feelings toward Tao--mostly because he knew they existed and also because he knew they'd probably end up going nowhere. But now, with Tao right up against him in a hold that was both utterly companionable yet utterly intimate, Kris couldn't help but feel a strange sense of loss for what he wished they could be and all the other reasons he would have wanted to be able to hold Tao in this way.
And then Tao snored loudly and Kris exhaled with him, remembered himself. He took care not to move, not to tighten his arms nor loosen them. He closed his eyes and willed himself to go back to sleep, even as the larger part of him hoped to stay awake longer, to commit to this moment.
His alarm blared out hours later, and Kris awoke again, exhausted and discontented. Tao was sitting up, dark circles prominent and hair sticking up on one side.
"Morning," he said, smiling sleepily. Kris returned the greeting and the mirrored the expression.
Nothing had changed at all between them.
"Yifan-ah, you're awake."
Kris yawned, nodded, and scratched his stomach. "I feel like death," he announced as he flopped onto the stool beside her. "I thought you were going to wake me up for the second shift."
"The second flight cancelled because of the blizzard," Granny Wu said. "They won't be in until tomorrow." She was wearing her glasses, the thick horn-rimmed ones that the doctor had prescribed for presbyopia. Her expression was stormy and she hated those glasses.
Kris frowned. "Where's Tao?"
"He's out," she replied, lips thin. The skies were dark and the wind was blowing so hard the snow was falling sideways. "Mrs. Zhu in 3-25 couldn't find her son. Tao went out to look for him."
"3-25?" Kris remembered her from yesterday's check-in, a stout little woman with curly hair and watery eyes. He'd passed by her just a moment ago, and she'd been dragging a yowling little boy by his ear. "I just saw them in the hallway..."
His grandmother's face went ashen and she lifted up the walkie-talkie clenched tight in her hand. "Zitao-ah," she said, her voice laced with the barest hint of panic. "Come back. We found her son, come back right now."
The speaker crackled once as she took her hand off the button, but no reply came.
"Tao wouldn't come back if he thought there was a kid trapped in the snow," Kris said, feeling his stomach bottoming out. He jumped to his feet and nearly tripped as he rushed from behind the counter back toward his room.
"Yifan!" His grandmother cried out after him despairingly. Kris hadn't heard that tone of voice from her since the night his grandfather passed. "Wu Yifan, you come back here!"
Kris became aware of how poorly his thought process went the moment he stepped outside in his thickest and warmest everything, only to realize that he'd forgotten his gloves. The winter wind felt like one never-ending icy slap in the face, but Tao was still out there, so Kris surged forward.
His first thought was to go toward the ice pond, because children tended to shy away from the slopes; but then again, that would have been the first place Tao looked. So Kris headed toward the only other likely place: the triangular cluster of spruce trees separating the slopes from the honeymooners' cabins.
It wasn't a long distance away. He used to walk this path every day, back before his grandmother decided that sitting him at the front desk was better for business, and back then it might've taken him ten minutes. Right now, with every step heavier than the last and the sickness of fear and dread in the pit of his stomach, the journey felt as though it'd gone on for hours. He couldn't even bring himself to think about how much he was relying on his admittedly unintuitive gut, and that there was no guarantee whatsoever that Tao was even there.
But thinking about worst case scenarios was counterproductive and Tao was out there somewhere. So Kris continued on, one foot in front of the other. The wind carried his voice in the opposite direction whenever he called out Tao's name, but he kept at it until his throat was raw and the cold wind was making him cough, because the only alternative was so much worse.
Every moment his mind wandered, every moment his panic subsided, Kris's head would suddenly be filled with ridiculous thoughts, like how he couldn't remember the last thing he'd said to Tao; that the last thing he'd said to Luhan was an affirmative to the promise to "stay warm, stay safe"--Luhan was going to be pissed if Kris ever let slip wandering out into a veritable snowstorm like this. He remembered the last thing he said to his grandmother, even as she tried futilely to make him stay, was "but Tao's still out there"--like it'd been the only thing that mattered.
But Kris didn't want to think about it, because it wasn't as though any of those last times were the last time.
After what felt like an eternity, Kris finally spotted the dark line of trees in the distance. He opened his mouth to call out Tao's name again, but right then, the wind picked up and Kris's voice froze in his throat. He could barely see in front of his face, much less hear anything but the wind howling in his ear. Tao could be two feet in front of him and they could pass each other right by. The thought was unnerving by itself, but right then, the wind spiraled, the snow flurried, and for one terrifying moment, his vision went white.
In that moment, something large and squishy collided into his side. Kris clung to it instinctively, to try to maintain his balance, but from the height and the bright red of the jacket, Kris knew at once and was relieved.
"Huang Zitao, oh my god!" he breathed, throwing his arms around Tao's squishy self (with some difficulty) and squeezing as hard as he could. Tao's arms wound around him and returned the embrace, though no warmth came from it.
"Kris?! What are you doing out here?" Tao asked incredulously, muffled by the high collar of his jacket and the scarf that was underneath. He was wearing snow goggles under his ski mask. And he had gloves on. Kris quickly shoved his hands back inside his pocket, wincing at the numbness. It was as though finding Tao had sapped the last of his energy. Briefly, he wondered how much longer he could stay out without getting frostbite.
"I came out to find you!" Kris shouted, leaning in close so Tao could hear him over the roar of the storm. His words stumbled into one another. "They found Mrs. Zhu's son!"
"Oh, that's good!" Tao hollered back into Kris's ear, arms still clasped around Kris's middle. He could hear the smile in Tao's voice, and it was music to his ears. "I was going to go by the lake again, but this is good too! Come on, let's go back!"
They started to move, but they hadn't taken more than a few steps before Tao stopped unexpectedly. Kris glanced up and realized that Tao was peering at him through the aqua reflective tint of his goggles. "What is it?!"
"Are you okay? " Tao asked, sounding concerned.
Of course I'm okay, Kris tried to say, but instead he shivered violently. Tao paused a beat, then suddenly, he put one arm around Kris's waist and started dragging him in the other direction, away from the main building. "W-wait, what?" Kris sputtered. "Where are we going?"
"The cabins are closer than the main camp is," Tao shouted, pausing just long enough to slide off one of his gloves and hand it to Kris. "You're not going to make it back, not in that jacket."
"What's wrong with my jacket?" Kris demanded indignantly, but Tao didn't respond. They walked the rest of the way in silence, Tao's fingers tight between Kris's own.
The honeymooners' cabins were originally meant to house entire families who'd pay extra for privacy, but after a string of couple renters who rarely emerged during their stay, the nickname stuck. Unfortunately, the cabin hadn't been prepped, so it was dark and stone cold on the inside. Immediately, Tao dove for the heater and turned it on full-blast, before heading toward the bathroom and turning the water on.
Kris, meanwhile, went for the phone.
"Wu Yifan!!" His grandmother sounded both overjoyed and incensed. Kris winced.
"We're alive--" he started to say, and instantly regretted his poor choice of words.
"That's good! Because when you get back here, I'm going to KILL you."
Tao had dumped all the extra covers on the bed and started the water heater by the time Kris finally got off the phone. He looked torn between expressing sympathy and wanting to press until it hurt. But Kris must've looked something pitiful because Tao took the route of mercy and did not comment.
"Come on," he said instead, throwing off his jacket and then the rest of his clothes too.
"What--" Kris said dumbly, staring when Tao's sweater caught on his thermal as he lifted it over his head. "What are you doing?"
"We need to get out of these clothes," Tao said, nodding toward the puddle Kris was dripping on the wooden floors. He seemed oddly flushed despite the cold. "You'll get sick otherwise."
"Oh, okay," Kris said. His head felt heavy and he was still shivering all over. "You can go first."
"No," Tao said insistently. "Look, you're going to get sick otherwise. I shower with the team all the time, it's fine, okay? Now come on."
"Uh..." Kris said hesitantly. Tao was peeling off his thermal underwear and there was a fluttering in his chest that made it very difficult to think. He was almost thankful for the cold that he didn't have a more noticeable reaction."...okay."
It was, hands down, the most awkward shower of his life. For one, the water was lukewarm at best and two, they couldn't seem to make eye contact with one another, with Tao's gaze fixed firmly on the floor and Kris's locked on a point just above Tao's head. It wasn't until long they were both dry under the covers with only their heads sticking out the foot of the bed with four bowls of instant ramen cooking in front of them that either of them spoke.
"So you came all the way out here and you weren't wearing gloves?" Tao asked, as he nudged Kris's side, in a tone that aimed for light but ended clunky with real concern. "Or goggles? Or thermals? Or--"
"I was in a hurry, okay?" Kris said crossly, feeling himself go red. "I was worried. Why did you even go out there all by yourself?"
"The lifts were shut down, we couldn't get a search party if we tried," Tao said. "Besides, I knew how to find my way back."
Kris scowled. "You shouldn't have been out here alone."
"I know," Tao mumbled. Then, he added shyly. "Thanks for coming for me."
Kris made the mistake of looking over at Tao right then. The warm light of the bedside lamps glanced off Tao's golden hair, made him look soft and otherworldly, and Kris was struck with the exact sense of longing he'd felt that night in his room one year ago.
"Don't be stupid," he grumbled, reaching for one of the bowls of ramen. "I'd never leave you alone."
The blizzard hadn't died down in the least by the time they finished eating, but the heater had finally kicked in so at last it wasn't an agony to turn on the television or go to the bathroom. They laughed their way through The Last Hero in China on their stomachs, with their elbows touching. It was downright toasty by the time the movie ended, but when it came time for sleep, Tao wedged himself shamelessly between Kris's arms.
"I'm cold," he'd announced in a tone of voice as cheeky as the smile on his face.
Well, it wasn't as though Kris objected.
They laid there in a comfortable silence. This was easier than the last time, Kris decided. Maybe coming off a cocktail of adrenaline and frenzy made everything else less daunting by comparison. Besides that, a year had passed and they'd seen more of one another that night alone than they had in the near decade they'd known one another. His thoughts were a jumble, but he got to hold Tao again and that was awesome.
"I'm not looking forward to tomorrow," Kris said without thinking.
Tao started and sat up suddenly. "Do you mean that?" he demanded.
"Y-yeah," Kris stammered confusedly, thinking of his grandmother and how she was going to flay him alive as soon as she got her hands on him. "Of course."
Tao pursed his lips in frustration before leaning down, just shy of uncomfortably close, his right elbow propped up on Kris's chest. "Why?"
He was looking at Kris in that very-pointed way again, and Kris didn't know how to respond to that, only that it was too hot and his pulse was racing, and on one hand, he was afraid of where Tao was going, but on the other, he was hopelessly full of hope. "My grandma's going to kill me. Us." He answered honestly.
Tao blinked, and in a moment his eyes were clouded with the uncertainty Kris was so familiar with. But then it was gone and when he spoke, he sounded determined. "Is that it?"
Kris was up on his elbows now, and though the storm was still raging outside, he could recognize the set of Tao's face, like a man preparing for battle or something else equally as brave. Kris's hand had closed around Tao's other wrist, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything. What if he was wrong? What if Tao meant something else equally as obvious that Kris couldn't see, because he was too wrapped up in what he wanted to see? What if--
Suddenly, Tao brought his free hand up and rested it on Kris's cheek, so his thumb brushed the corner of his lip.
Oh. Oh thank GOD.
"No, it's not," Kris breathed, and they both leaned forward at the same time and met in the middle.
Kissing Tao was stupidly amazing. Kris decided this in the brief moment of clarity that occurred when they paused for air ten minutes or two hours after the first touch of their lips, before his train of thought derailed again because Tao shoved him on his backside, climbed on top of him and picked up right where they left off.
Tao was straddling him. Tao was straddling him--Jesus Christ on a stick, he hoped Tao couldn't feel that. As the thought occurred, Tao smiled into their kiss and Kris's hopes were dashed. Brat, he thought without heat, and smacked Tao underneath his bathrobe in vengeance. Except then Tao let out a filthy, delicious kind of moan and Kris's dick reacted with immediate and almost overwhelming interest. Then, Tao's hands wandered between them and started loosening the tie to Kris's bathrobe.
"Huang Zitao!" Kris choked, more surprised at his boldness than anything else.
"Tell me to stop, I'll stop." Tao's expression was focused and hungry, and--maybe this was a bit fast by any normal definition, but then again normalcy was overrated and frankly, for them, maybe this was long overdue.
"No, don't stop," Kris said hurriedly, and Tao threw open the folds of his bathrobe like a curtain before going to work on his own. Kris quickly shrugged out of the sleeves and brought his hands up just in time to break Tao's enthusiastic landing. He touched bare skin--all of him touched bare skin--but more of him was focused on the hard length Tao's cock, which brushed up against his stomach before sliding down against his own. Kris jumped, startled, and cursed.
"Sorry," Tao said, pushing himself up on his arms and not sounding very sorry at all. He then demonstrated how entirely not-sorry he was by doing it again, lower lip caught between his teeth. Kris flushed hotly and retaliated accordingly, closing one hand around Tao's ass and the other around their straining erections. Tao jerked, and to Kris's surprised, let out an actual squeal, back arching and cock leaking profusely as Kris pumped his hand up and down, and then again, and again to the tune of Tao's shameless little mewls.
He'd never seen this side of Tao, never thought he could reduce Tao to such a state. But he liked it. It was amazing.
Tao started vocalizing more once he remembered they weren't in any danger of noise complaints (also when Kris's thumb found his slit and started paying more attention to it), but when Kris's other hand started circling toward his opening, Tao broke their kiss with a "wait!" and scrambled off of him.
Kris opened his mouth, started to apologize, but then Tao clambered back from the beside drawer with a small square packet and a bottle of lube.
"How did those get here?" Kris blurted out, confused.
Tao leveled him with a look. "It's called the honeymooner's cabins," he pointed out helpfully. "Hold out your hand."
Kris obeyed, and Tao soaked his fingers with the lube before crawling back in his lap and kissing him hard. As they made out, Tao took Kris's hand and guided him down.
"Please," he whispered as Kris's finger rested against his hole, hesitating. His hair was disheveled and his legs had wound around Kris so that most of his weight was resting on Kris's hands. "Put them inside, ge, please--ah--"
Kris's index finger slid into his ass and Tao cut off mid-plea, shaking. Kris kept going, deeper and deeper past the last knuckle. Tao's eyes were hooded and he was still except for where he was clenching and unclenching around Kris's finger. Kris took a deep breath, and then pulled out. Tao was moaning again, but then he cried out again when Kris introduced a second finger on the second slide in.
"Oh my god," Tao gasped out in wonderment as Kris pushed in deep and started separating his fingers in slow but firm movements. "Oh my god, Kris."
He had a sudden desire then to see what Tao looked like down there with his fingers deep inside him, stretching him. Fingers still inside of him, he shifted so he could lay Tao down on his back. When Tao made a noise of protest, Kris said, "I want to see."
"Oh," Tao said, small and high. He blushed, but spread his legs acquiescingly. Kris felt his throat go dry and he swallowed hard, and looked. Tao's erection was leaking onto his stomach and it twitched every time Kris's fingers moved. Kris pulled his fingers out and shoved them back in, as deep as it would go. Tao let out a choked breath, but his legs splayed further apart, fingers tight around the base of his cock. "Give me m--"
Kris twisted his fingers, brushing against a small nub, and Tao flailed helplessly with a shout as a splash of precome landed on his belly. "Fuck," Kris cursed appreciatively, and teased the spot as Tao thrashed beneath him exhaling sobbing little breaths. It occurred to him then that he could really make Tao come like this, with nothing but his hands. The same thought must have gone through Tao's mind as well, because then he was wriggling out of Kris's grip, saying "wait, wait".
"Can you fuck me instead?" Tao asked breathlessly, once he'd collected himself from the puddle Kris had, with some amount of pride, reduced him to. Kris's jaw dropped stupidly as all the blood promptly left his brain in a mad rush for his dick, and Tao turned even redder. "I mean," he hurried on, "I want..."
"Yes, of course," Kris agreed quickly, reaching for the abandoned condom. His fingers shook as they tore open the packet and slathered himself with more lube, but once he was ready, he glanced up and found Tao on all four, one hand clinging to the headboard and the other tracing his puckered and stretched little hole.
"Kris, oh my god," Tao moaned, sounding drunk. "You...you really opened me up here."
It was mind-numbingly hot. Kris gawked, and clapped his hand over his mouth before he could do anything massively uncool like wheeze noiselessly or come in his pants. Well, he wasn't wearing pants, but that wasn't the point. "I did," he managed to choke out. He came up from behind and spread Tao apart so he could see Tao's cock hanging dark and heavy between his legs. Then, lining himself up, Kris started pushing in with short, nudging strokes.
"Ah!" Tao sagged forward and his ass clenched sporadically as Kris fed his cock in, centimeter by centimeter. The muscles in his back flexed as he panted with exertion, but all that was coming out of his mouth was happy whimpers and an affirmative string of curses.
"Huang Zitao, why is your mouth so filthy?" Kris whispered in Tao's ear, pulling out and thrusting back in with slowly but firmly increasing strokes. Tao's face was so red it was luminous in the darkness. His eyes were dazed and wanton. Kris, who up until that point thought he'd been doing very well holding himself back, felt his balls tighten warningly, and mentally cursed his lack of stamina.
"You like it," Tao said, grinning cheekily like there wasn't a cock slamming rhythmically in and out of his ass. Lord help him, Kris loved it. Suddenly, Tao's hand touched behind the back of Kris's neck and gently guided him down for a sweet, chaste kiss. Without thinking, Kris angled his head so he could deepen it. It almost felt strange kissing like this with the relative obscenity happening about an arms-length below, and yet...
It was Tao. Nothing ever felt wrong when he was with Tao.
That said, he wasn't going to last forever like this, so Kris snaked one arm across the front of Tao's chest and palmed Tao erection in his other. Tao broke off the kiss with a squawk that should've been unattractive that turned into a throaty moan that was very attractive indeed. He was hard and wet and velvety in Kris's hand, and every little touch from Kris reverberated elsewhere--the noises in Tao's throat, the twitches in Tao's backside, and the rapid convulsions around where Kris was hilt-deep inside him.
"I'm gonna come," he said hoarsely, hips moving shamelessly as Kris jerked him off lazily. "Kris, I-I'm gonna--"
"Good," Kris bit out, and then hammered him with rapid, hard fucking as his hand started pumping in earnest at a merciless pace. Tao let out a choked, startled cry, and then his cock spurted hot, white strings of come. The moment he felt the wetness, Kris let himself go, self-centered shallow little thrusts that had him following in Tao's example seconds later.
They toppled backward onto the bed and fall naturally into a spooning position, sweaty and hot and exhausted. Kris had the presence of mind to reach for the blankets, kicked off the bed in their frenzy, and throw it around them.
"Too hot," Tao mumbled. Then he shuffled closer and buried his face into the crook of Kris's neck.
Spoiled, Kris thought to say, but in the next moment, he was out like a light.
It was dark and freezing when Kris woke up. The heater had turned off sometime in the night and one glance at the clock told Kris it was too early--even by his grandmother's standards. He hopped out of bed to flick the heat switch on, and then dashed back in, and the movement jostled Tao awake
"Ge?" Tao mumbled sleepily. His hair was sticking up in tufts and his eyes were so puffy they were practically swollen shut, but none of that did anything at all to diminish Kris's almost overwhelming affection.
"I like you," Kris said. That hadn't been so hard after all.
Tao had stared at him for a long time before a wide grin bloomed on his face. "I like you too," he said happily, and then leaned over so he could kiss Kris, morning breath and all.
+ Many thanks to Whitney, Divya, and Melody for everything they did, helping me to envision the story, editing, proofreading, listening to me whine, and encouraging me until the final hour.
+ The title is taken from the opening lines of Jay Chou's song 妳聽得到, which I listened to copiously during the writing process and therefore inspired much of the mood/feelings I had.
+ I had a lot more notes as I was writing, but I can't remember any of them now.
+ Questions, comments, send them my way. :)