Prompt: Horror Flicks - The Eye
Summary: For Zitao, being blind doesn't mean living in the shadows, and seeing isn't all that it's said to be. Sometimes it's better in the dark, even if you have a hand to hold.
Warnings: scary stuff, slight gore, massive minor character death
Word Count: 6,902
"I wonder what it will be like to see."
Zitao has always been blind as long as he can remember. It's not gloomy or dark though; he "sees" the world in sounds, shades of echoes and vibrations and flavours of music. Everything is a song. The flowers he gets fresh from the florist at the corner every day on his way back from visiting his parent's graves are a sonata in velvety petals rustling and the light airy scent of baby's breath and and sweeter heavier peonies.
He's not alone in the dark.
He's surrounded by a vibrant world.
He doesn't necessarily think he needs the eye cornea transplant but he had promised his mother that he would get one if he got the chance. And I can't ask for my promise back now.
"Are you scared?" Sehun is the sound engineer at the recording studio; people seem to think he's reserved and sleepy but Zitao can feel the subtle energy vibrating around him like a corona. There's nothing sleepy about it.
"No..." Zitao isn't really sure about it at all but he doesn't want to be scared so he won't be.
"Well, as long as it doesn't disturb your playing I don't care much either way." Sehun sounds abrupt but Zitao can hear the affection in his voice. Seeing people are so blind.
"I'll be fine," Zitao laughs. "If there's a problem I can always wear a blindfold you know."
Sehun's still laughing as he leaves the studio.
The surgery goes off seamlessly, Zitao is assured by the doctors, but he has to wait a few days in the hospital and the first few days he'll have to keep bandages on.
It's strange in the hospital — there are vibrations and voices and the cold smell of metal and and the bitterness of sickness and he can't find his bearings. Why did I agree to do this again?
Sehun doesn't come but he sends flowers and an apology spoken in a card: "Sorry I can't come but I'm sure you'll do fine. Eat your food like a good boy." Zitao smiles. The flowers give him something to centre on.
The doctor removes his bandages and all of a sudden Zitao is terrified. I wish I could freeze time. He doesn't want to open his eyes.
But he does anyway. Because he promised.
He doesn't know what he's looking at. Even the word looking is strange.
The doctor reassures him that it's normal because his brain isn't used to processing visual information anymore. But he looks around at a world he doesn't understand and thinks that he's losing more than he's gaining. Everything is muffled now. The nurse rushes over with a camera to "record his first moment with sight" but everything is too much, blinded when the flash goes off and baffled by the cascading lights and colours. So he's secretly relieved when the doctor puts the bandage on again, only nodding politely when he's reassured that it will be off for longer tomorrow.
It takes a couple of days for Zitao to begin being able to see. The strangest thing though is looking at himself. Standing in front if the mirror, he waves a hand in front of his face. When his eyes are closed, everything comes into focus. The mirror is there and he is here and his hand is here. But when he opens his eyes and tries to repeat the action, he almost swipes his nose.
There are other strange things too. He knows he has short hair but the hair in the mirror looks long. Why does seeing the world make everything a lie?
By the fifth day his fingers are twitching and he just wants to go home, back to his comforting apartment and black and white keys, sunlight and the scent of flowers.
Sehun's bouquet is wilted.
The last night, as he sits in his bed and closes his eyes, listening to the sounds of his fingers dancing over the sheets — allegro, piano, forte — he's interrupted by a small voice.
"Are you playing the piano?"
Eyes closed, Zitao nods. It's a small girl speaking, but when he opens his eyes he can just tell it's a small person in pink and white pajamas.
"I can play the piano too." The small girl hops onto the bed and begins to play the blanket, as the sounds of Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 fill Zitao's mind.
"That was beautiful," he smiles as her last finger hovers over the fabric. She frowns.
"I made a mistake in the middle."
Zitao's eyes wrinkle as he grins. "Do you want to practice?"
She nods happily, he can feel the energy when he ignores his eyes, and they spend the evening practising piano on the bed sheets.
When she leaves, waving at from the doorway,there's one of those strange dark things by the wall again, nebulous with little tendrils reaching towards the fabric of her clothing. I wonder what those are? He's been seeing them around but no one has explained, like they've explained almost everything else in excruciating detail. I feel so stupid.
It's raining the day of his departure. There's a strange buzz he can feel in the air before opening his eyes, and when he does, there are too many dark things.
"What are those things?" he asks the nurse.
"Plants," she says absentmindedly. Zitao isn't convinced but what can he say. I don't know anything.
He sees the little girl from yesterday so he waves but she doesn't see him, walking down the hallway hand wrapped up in — that's a dark thing isn't it? — he turns to ask the nurse. "That little girl who visited me yesterday? What's her name?" He can't tell from her face, but the energy around the woman is sad.
"You mean Lily?" He nods.
"Where is Lily going?"
He's putting on his socks, it's ridiculously difficult when you have to look at what you're doing but he's tired of stumbling around, so he can't see her face, but the sudden trembling in the air around the nurse causes him to lift his head in surprise.
"Lily?" It's not his imagination. There's definitely something wrong.
"Lily died this morning."
Zitao feels his heart fall right out of his chest and hit the floor with a wet crunch.
"But she was just in the hallway?" He looks but Lily is gone, and so are all the dark things. I don't think they're plants.
The nurse just looks at him — he can't detect her expression but there's an undercurrent of fear in the air. When she leaves, she walks too quickly and doesn't look back.
Sehun is busy so Zitao assures him that he can take a taxi home. I've taken taxis home alone my whole life.
But everything is different when he has to depend on his eyes. He misses the curb and falls into the back seat, dropping his wallet and contents of his bag all over the floor. While he's frantically scrabbling around on the ground to pick everything up, eyes closed because he can't deal with seeing right now, the taxi comes to a dead stop, causing him to bash his head into the armrest.
"I'm sorry," the taxi driver says, but Zitao can tell from the annoyed vibrations in his voice that he isn't. "There's been a car accident."
Zitao slumps back in his seat. He's looking idly out the window when he sees another dark thing beside a young man, golden hair flickering in the light. He's my age. The curiosity in his chest mixed with a cold thread of fear, Zitao opens his door to see better. The dark thing and the man are walking away from a cluster up ahead. Ignoring the taxi driver, Zitao nervously approaches.
There's red all over the ground and pieces of glass that glitter — the air is filled with pain and the smell of burnt metal and warm iron. The young man is lying on the wet pavement, his blond hair tinted crimson. The person holding his wrist looks at the clock.
"Time of death, 18:36."
Zitao stumbles back, hand over his mouth. He snaps his head back to look for the dark thing but it and the young man are gone. What's wrong with my eyes?
There's an angry horn blaring from the taxi and he makes his way back, shivering and wet and not just because of the rain.
His apartment doesn't feel the same anymore. It's cold and dark because none of the lights work anymore — he'd never needed them before — and he doesn't want to close his eyes because he can't get the dark things out of his head.
He calls Sehun.
"Did you get home okay?" Sehun sounds surprisingly worried. Zitao doesn't mean to but the uncharacteristic concern tips him over into tears.
Over a mess of sobbing and tear-mangled explanations, Sehun finally understands what Zitao is trying to say.
"You don't like being able to see and you think you're seeing ghosts?"
Zitao gulps. It sounds really dumb when Sehun says it, and it's not just because he always sounds skeptical on the surface. He can hear Sehun sigh, and braces himself for ridicule.
"I think I know the person you need to talk to."
Sehun can't see him but Zitao's mouth is hanging open.
He buys the darkest glasses he can find at the corner store beside his apartment and takes the subway to the address Sehun told him. It's simpler this way, everything is in the right place and there aren't any dark things anywhere.
Zitao knocks lightly on the door before opening it. There's a faint rustling of papers that stops as he walks further into the room — ahhh, a secretary — "do you have an appointment?" He nods and sits down. The velvet of the upholstery is soft under his fingers.
After a few moments he's directed into the next room. It smells faintly of coffee and his mouth waters.
"Hello, I'm Yifan." The voice is polite, withdrawn, and Zitao feels his shoulders shrink into his neck. There's no way he's going to believe me. He's not sure what Sehun has told Yifan over the phone so he answers back with a simple nod of the head.
"Sehun mentioned that you just underwent an eye cornea transplant?" It's hard to get a read on Yifan from the other end of the room, especially because he doesn't know him.
"Yes?" This is not what Zitao was expecting.
"Then why are you pretending to be blind?" Zitao can't help it, he feels judged and his mouth slips into a pout. Sehun would never let me live this down.
"Fine." He makes a show of removing his sunglasses with cool bravado but his hands are trembling when he slips them into his pockets. The light hits his eyes sharply and his eyes water at the pain.
Yifan still seems to be waiting for an answer; an expectant pause hangs in the air as Zitao tries to discreetly check the room for dark things. Safe.
"There are things I don't want to see," he finally admits. It's cold in the room, the air conditioner blowing cold air over his face. He shivers.
"Like?" Yifan leans forward, his voice curious.
Zitao doesn't want to answer. He wants to hide his face behind dark glasses and never look at anything again, but he settles for wrapping his arms around his knees drawn up to his chest. A tear drips out of one eye and falls onto his shirt.
"I can see ghosts." His voice cracks and he shivers.
There's a dead silence.
This is where he calls me crazy.
"Is there a possibility that this is a result of the surgery?" Yifan sounds like he's grasping at straws. Zitao only shakes his head.
Yifan sighs. He's looking at Zitao but Zitao is looking at the floor.
"You'd better tell me everything then." Yifan picks up his pen.
"I'm going to have to think about this." Yifan sighs.
Zitao is done talking and his tongue is dry, sticking to the roof of his mouth. He has managed to completely terrify himself again and a fine trembling has set into his muscles. He snaps his sunglasses back on without a second thought and gets up to leave.
"And Zitao?" Yifan sounds just as inscrutable as before.
"Yes?" He still can't figure Yifan out.
"Please be careful on your way home." There's a definite trickle of warmth in the tone now and Zitao lets it warm him through the rain and the crowded subway and the car that drenches him with water as he's trying to cross the street.
There's an envelope waiting for him in his mail slot; he always runs his fingers over the front to check as he walks through the lobby to the elevator. I wonder who it's from? He could take his sunglasses off but he remembers that he can't read. Why do I feel so helpless now?
He takes his sunglasses off in the elevator anyway, his eyes once again assaulted by the harsh lighting. There are letters written on the envelope but he can't read them. Everything is so different from Braille. I'm like a child again.
The elevator doors slide open on his floor and he sighs, tucking the envelope into his bag before stepping out.
His feet are frozen to the floor in terror.
There's a dark thing three doors down on the right, Zitao breaths in a sob and starts inching toward the left in the direction of his apartment, flipping open his old-fashioned phone to call Sehun —
There are three more dark things outside doors in the hallway in front of him. They don't seem to be paying attention to him but he doesn't know how they work. Sehun doesn't answer.
He keeps dialling frantically as he backtracks silently to the elevator, mashing the down button frantically. Nothing. The elevator is mercifully clear and so is the lobby — he collapses onto a bench, shivering in his wet clothes. Sehun still isn't answering. Then he remembers the business card that Yifan gave him, scrabbling through his bag to find the thin slip of cardstock only to realize that — I can't read the numbers. The tears tracking down his face aren't just because of his weak eyes anymore. He worries the card between his shaking fingers, waiting for Sehun to —
There's a glimpse of blue on the other side of the card. He turns it over, not daring to hope — there's pen on the back. Yifan wrote his phone number out in Braille. Zitao chokes back a sob; it's strange reading Braille with his eyes instead of his fingers but the number is in his phone and dialling before his brain even has time to catch up.
"Yes?" Yifan's voice sounds smooth and comforting over the phone and Zitao latches onto the tremulous warmth.
"Help." He's really crying now, breaths coming in tiny sobs.
"Zitao? What's wrong?" There's a rustling over the line — Yifan is standing up and putting on a jacket.
"There are dark things outside my apartment and I can't go in." He takes in a trembling breath.
"Where are you?" He can hear the sound of elevator buttons being pressed.
"I'm in the lobby but I'm really scared..." Zitao's voice trails off as he keeps scanning the empty lobby nervously. There are potted plants along the wall, and he things about the nurse who was scared of him.
"Can you wait somewhere else?" There's a woosh of glass doors and then the sound of the rain.
Zitao peers out the glass front of the lobby. It's getting dark and there are shadows everywhere, but a brightly lit café across the street catches his eye. "There's a café across the street..."
"Okay. I'll meet you there in a few minutes. Will you be okay?" A car door slams and he can hear the engine of a car start.
"Yes..." He isn't sure but he hangs up anyway.
Despite getting soaked again from running across the street in the rain, water trickling down his collar and soaking into his shoes, the café is warm and the lights aren't too bright. He keeps his sunglasses off because he doesn't want to miss Yifan, anxiously checking his surroundings but it looks safe, there are only happily chatting customers sipping coffee and the baristas bustling cheerfully behind the counter.
Zitao nestles down in an armchair and contemplates getting a hot chocolate. I need something to settle my nerves. After a moment of enjoying the cheerful chatter and soft Christmas music, he gets up to order, the scent of candy canes and mint filling his nose. A candy cane flavoured hot chocolate sounds really good! I haven't had that since Christmas.
He waits for the barista to notice him so he can order, browsing the pastries in the display case. Everything looks so interesting; he only knows what things taste and smell and feel like. Finally he glances up. What's taking so long? The barista hasn't noticed him at all, fussing with a machine.
"Hello?" Zitao waves his hand but then stops. The barista has angled towards him and something seems wrong. His voice sounds strange in the space — the words echo strangely though the small room. He wrinkles his nose as a faint smell of something burning trickles past.
And then the coffee machine bursts into flames. Zitao screams in terror, stumbling backwards, but no one seems to be paying attention. He tries to catch the attention of a customer sitting at the table next to him but she won't pay him any attention, dipping her coffee and checking her phone.
Her face starts to melt, the skin dropping off the bone and landing with a sizzle on the red-hot metal surface of the table.
Zitao can't even breathe. His eyes dart around the room, everything is on fire and melting and the people are disintegrating around him, the fire licking at their faces, he opens his mouth to scream —
"Zitao!" That's Yifan's voice.
His eyes are blurry with smoke and tears but he feels a warm hand on his arm and he's being pulled towards the door —
There is no door. There is no floor or walls and he's completely soaked, rain dripping from his hair and his fingers are blue. He looks at Yifan; his face is pinched which he can't decipher, but the worry trembling in the air is palpable.
Zitao buries his face in Yifan's coat.
Wrapped in towels, holding a mug of tea in his hands, Zitao finally begins to calm down. I still can't believe I had hysterics in the car. He shivers in embarrassment at the recollection and Yifan, walking out of the kitchen, notices and comes over, sitting beside him on the sofa and wrapping one warm arm around his shoulders.
"Are you feeling more coherent now?" He's smiling and Zitao leans against his shoulder, letting the warmth sooth his racing heart.
"Yes, but I should probably call Sehun." He looks around in worry — where is my bag? The helplessness starts to rise in his throat again. Yifan notices his panic and gives his shoulder a reassuring squeeze before handing him the offending article. Zitao breathes a rattling sigh.
"I already called Sehun," Yifan adds, "He was worried because of all the missed calls."
"Worried?" Zitao cocks a disbelieving eyebrow.
"Alright," Yifan laughs. "He sounded slightly perturbed, but that might have been because of the inconvenience of scrolling through his missed messages." They grin at each other and it's the first time since this whole eye debacle began that Zitao feels happy.
Snuggled up and warm, he decides to investigate the envelope. It's a photograph.
"What's that?" Yifan's voice tickles his ear and Zitao shivers. That feels...weird.
"They took a photo of me at the hospital with my new eyes," he explains, and then freezes, looking at the coloured paper.
"You're cute," Yifan smiles, but the shivers clawing their way up Zitao's back now are the kind that stab fear into his skin.
"That's not me."
"Of course it is?" Yifan sounds confused, but Zitao frantically thrashes out of the towels and stumbles to the bathroom.
His reflection in the mirror is the same as always. Big eyes, long black hair, a cute nose. The person in the photograph is completely different. His breath catches in his throat.
"Zitao?" He can hear footsteps and Yifan's worried voice but he can't breathe. The person in the mirror is talking but he can't tell what they're saying.
And then the room in the mirror fills with water and the him in the mirror is choking and gasping but it's not him but it is and he can't —
Yifan's wrapping him in his arms as he's clawing at his eyes and throat — "Make it stop!" — and then everything goes blessedly dark as his face is pressed into the soft textures of a cashmere sweater.
Zitao can't stop shaking and clings to Yifan's arm so they end up sleeping curled up in Yifan's twin bed, tangled in the sheets and feather comforter. He's not even embarrassed; it feels too safe. There's a warm feeling in his chest and he nuzzles closer into the warm embrace until he can hear the steady heartbeat. He can feel Yifan smiling.
He wakes up with warm sun on his face. Yifan isn't there and a bolt of fear runs through him, until he hears the soft clanking and rustling in the kitchen. Pulling on a shirt of Yifan's hanging on the wardrobe door, he pads on tentative feet out of the bedroom.
"Hello!" Yifan's voice is warm and Zitao smiles. "Do you like pancakes?" He nods, his face splitting into a childlike grin of happiness. Sehun, I can't thank you enough.
Breakfast is sunshine through the windows and pancakes spread with Nutella; Yifan standing at the stove flipping crepes through the air and Zitao sitting at the white table, bare feet tapping out his happiness. The richness of chocolate and hazelnut fills his mouth.
"I've been thinking," Yifan says, setting a plate with the last crepes on it on the table between them and sitting down, his knees gently brushing Zitao's, "Maybe we need to find out about your eye donor." He smiles gently at Zitao, but the latter has lost his appetite.
"They're dead," he says, the thick sticky brown stuff in his mouth choking him. He doesn't want to think about it; that the reason he can see now is because someone else will never see again. And the water and the choking and the — He wants to get up for a glass of water but he doesn't want to touch it right now. He takes a gulp of orange juice instead.
Yifan sighs but drops the subject. Or so Zitao thinks. The shadows from the metal bars on the windows cast dark lines across his hands, holding him in limbo.
Yifan has gone to work, reassuring Zitao that he can stay at the apartment, that he's not a bother at all, but sitting in the living room wrapped in a blue fleece blanket, Zitao is starting to feel very out of place. Now that he's calmer, his fingers are twitching and he needs to play the stress out, but there's no piano. Should I just go home?
Zitao is filled with horror at the thought. Dark things everywhere.
He calls Sehun but the jerk is busy as usual and not answering his phone. Looking the phone reminds him of all the things he can't do, like read, and the knowledge only makes him sad. I'm so useless.
He tries watching television but everything is oceans and waves and blue, blue, blue. His eyes keep straying to his transparent reflection in the glass-topped coffee table, the strip of his hair reflected in the window, the bathroom door waiting around the corner. Finally, his feet make the decision for him, propelling him up off the couch before his mind can keep up.
The floor creaks on his way to the mirror: "don't go, don't go..." But he can still see the face in his head. Water in his mouth. He turns on the light, fingers trembling. And there she is.
He can see that it's a girl now; before when he thought it was himself he didn't notice the small details but —
She's saying something, shadows flickering across her face from something he can't see. The wind is tearing through her hear, black tendrils twisted in her mouth as her lips shape the words "Help —" waves cascade over her and there's water in her eyes, her mouth, twisting her fingers — he beats at the glass with his hands but it only cracks, lines running over his face and down his hands the fear in her eyes the pain...
— and then she's gone. Everything is dark and cold and the light goes out.
His feet are wet.
When Yifan opens the door he finds Zitao curled up in the blue fleece blanket, sheets draped over every reflective surface in the room. He's shivering, cranberry smears on the blanket.
"What did you do?" Yifan rushes forward, taking Zitao's aching hands in his. "Your hands!" But Zitao isn't thinking about music or the piano or the minor key rushing of water into her mouth.
"Help," he says quietly, his mouth echoing the shape of her lips. Help me? It's not quite right; he shakes his head.
Yifan is leaning forward, trying to hear what he's saying; Zitao's cheek brushes the taller man's lips. They're warm.
The cold leaves his fingers.
Yifan sits Zitao down at the table, bandaging his glass-torn hands up like a small child, sighing when Zitao winces at the sting of the antiseptic. "Why did you do this?" He sounds worried and the concern spreads warm flutters through Zitao's stomach.
"She was trying to tell me something," Zitao sighs, resting his head on Yifan's arm. "But I couldn't understand and then she was gone." His voice is garbled in the fabric but Yifan understands him anyway.
They end up on the sofa, wrapped in blankets, Zitao cuddled into Yifan's chest. He can hear his heartbeat. His hands are wrapped up in white bandages, making it a little difficult to move his fingers, but Yifan holds his hot chocolate mug and gives him a straw.
"I found some things out today," he begins tentatively, as Zitao is smiling about the sweetness in his stomach. He looks up at the taller man, apprehensive.
"Your cornea donor's name was Song Qian." He doesn't want to know but he does.
"She was found floating in the ocean; they were able to restart her heart but she was pronounced brain dead at the hospital." It feels like he isn't saying something. Zitao waits.
The shadows on the wall filtering though the curtains look like waves. Yifan takes a deep breath.
"I looked her up online," he begins, pausing slightly before continuing. "The results were...interesting." His reassuring smile, when viewed from upside down, looks like a frown.
"Was there anything about...the dark things?" Zitao darts his eyes around the room after saying the words; it feels like if he says them they become more real.
"Not exactly—" Zitao's shoulders slump as he thinks about all the scary things still hiding for him in the dark— "but there were rumours that she caused death." Zitao hears a sharp gasp almost like a moan and wonders numbly who it is. Oh, it's me.
"I really doubt that's true though," Yifan is quick to reassure him. "After all, how could she have caused the landslide that caused her death? And even if she could, why would she have done something to hurt herself, if she was like that."
Zitao thinks about the girl in the mirror. Song Qian. "Help me."
"Yes?" Yifan bends his face down over Zitao so that he can hear him better. "What was that?"
Zitao blushes at the proximity but he's thinking about water and darkness and hair in the mouth "I think she was saying 'help me', when she died." He looks up at Yifan, who is too close. "Can I help her?"
Yifan looks confused. "But she's already dead..."
Zitao sets his lip. Sehun would poke it but Yifan isn't Sehun and he only tries not to smile. "Okay. I have tomorrow off anyway."
Zitao is tired and knows he should go to bed but he doesn't want to ask if it's okay if he sleeps in Yifan's bed again. Because I'm scared and it's dark outside. He drifts off to sleep in Yifan's arms, who doesn't make any protest.
It's dark when they wake up, nestled on the sofa, Zitao's face crushed into Yifan's warm chest. The ticking of the clock is too loud, Zitao would go back to sleep but something is stopping him. He sits up — what's that dark thing on the wall? but just then Yifan stirs and the pale morning sun peeks out from behind the clouds, drowning the room in a watery light.
"Are you okay?" Yifan asks, noticing Zitao's pale expression through his sleep-puffy eyes. Zitao shakes his head to clear it, and reopens his eyes. The shadows are gone.
"Just hungry," he lies, turning the corners of his mouth up in what he hopes is the convincing fascimile of a smile. Yifan frowns slightly but finally nods his head.
They eat cereal in the dimness, rain running down the windowpanes, a sad stacatto of the changing seasons. Zitao goes to the bathroom and takes a shower in the dark. The water is still too wet but he can pretend that this is two weeks ago when everything was safe and normal and unilluminated.
Yifan lends hims a sweater; it's a little too big but he snuggles into the warmness. The car is cold until the heat kicks in and his breath against the window glass frosts white circles to cloud the view. He draws a flower with the tip of his finger and the skin comes away icy.
"It will take a while to get there so I made you some hot chocolate," Yifan says as they drive, black asphant disappearing beneath the silver hood. Zitao is scared, but he's so thankful that he's not alone. The hot chocolate tastes even sweeter.
It gets colder as they near the ocean, the damp breeze somehow worming its way between the invisible cracks of the doors and windows to worm skinny fingers down Zitao's neck. The road bends around a sharp outcropping of steel gray stone, and then they see it.
Or what's left of it anyway. The mountain that had looked so tall and proud from a distance is missing an entire side, carved out like snow from an avalanche. He can see where streams of rushing water have torn the hillside apart, claws dragged through the ground to uproot boulders and bury an entire town. The destruction continues all the way to the cliffs on the other side, the gouges falling first down into the waves; crashing water filling the air.
There's nothing to say.
After a small eternity Yifan turns on the car and the sound of the engine roars like thunder in the silence; Zitao half expects the rest of the mountain to come crashing down. He glances around nervously for dark things but the shadows are the less mysterious kind. Yifan drives slowly down the fragmented road to take a small turn towards the hills. Zitao is about to ask where they're going because there's nothing left, everything is rocks and broken dreams when the car rolls to soft halt.
It's a cemetery and the plots are all full.
"Did you want to see her grave?" Yifan asks. Zitao nods quietly. They get out of the car, cold wind whipping through his hair. The grave is simple, white marble and her name. Zitao listens, but there's nothing but the waves and the crying wind. She isn't here.
"How am I supposed to help her?" He looks at the stone but there's no answer.
He's shivering by the time Yifan pulls him gently to the car and wraps a blanket around him.
"Are you sure about what she was saying?" he asks, voice hesitant, as dusk falls. Zitao starts to nod his head and then stops. The sky is darkening and the light from inside the car makes the window beside him into a mirror.
"How am I supposed to help you?" Zitao is scared of the dark things but he's also sad. The water fills her mouth and he can't understand what she's saying. Before he knows it, he has his face pressed against the glass, the cold searing his cheeks. His face is wet. Yifan turns the light off.
"You need to rest," he says, voice soft. "Maybe it will make sense later." Zitao doesn't want to agree — she needs my help! but he's exhausted and his eyes close anyway.
He's scared. There are dark things everywhere and he knows that something terrible is going to happen — I do? — he catches a glimpse of himself in a window as he runs by, long black hair streaming though the wind Oh... the dark things are congregating at her back, standing in every doorway, peering through the glass. It's raining and the stones under her feet are slippery. "Listen to me!" she's shouting but no one is listening. They look at her with wide mistrustful eyes and close their door, not before the dark things slip in. She pounds at the wood until her hands turn red but no one opens the door. The wind is rising and she can hear the sound of water above the waves — "You have to listen!" — she's still running when the first water hits the ground, carrying a torrent of stones with it. And she's still shouting a warning as she's swept over the edge.
Zitao wakes up choking and there's water in his mouth, stones under his fingers and hair in his eyes — "Zitao!" — he coughs up the contents of his lungs onto the seat. The water is salty.
"Zitao?" The voice beside him is loud; he opens his eyes. There's leather under his fingers, not stones, but the wetness of his shirt proves the dream true.
"Zitao?" Yifan is leaning over him, a frightened expression on his face. This is the first time I've seen his face like that... Zitao blinks and opens his mouth but a sob comes out instead. Song Qian's face, the words on her lips: Help...
"Zitao?" The relief in Yifan's voice is tinged by confusion but Zitao doesnt have time, he's putting the pieces together in his head.
The dark thing before Lily died, the dark things before the landslide, the dark things in his lobby —
"Start the car!" he shouts, panicked, eyes wide as he looks out at the night that has fallen too quickly. Yifan opens his mouth to protest — "I'll explain later but please!" He's running out of time. The long black hair in the side mirror nods.
By the time they drive back into the city Zitao is leaning forward in his seat, white knuckled grasp tight on the door handle. Am I too late? Yifan is looking at him with concern approaching panic —I must look totally insane— but it doesn't matter.
"The dark things come before people die," he says, tongue twisitng between the words so they come out breathless and confused. "There were dark things in my apartment, something is going to happen." He can't help but tap his fingers nervously against the window glass, the clicking sound only increasing his anxiety.
"But that was days ago," Yifan begins to protest, "how does that make sense?" Zitao hasalready had a whole car ride to think about this though.
"That's how bad it is," he replies, voice hushed. And as they approach the apartment, glass shining dully in the cloud-obscured night, dark things begin to congregate, choking the road. I know I'm right.
Yifan's barely slowed the car and he's already jumping out of the car, knees scraping the concrete but he stumbles to his feet and keeps running —
"Wait!" Yifan sounds scared and confused, it's hard to remember that he can't see the dark things even though they're smothering Zitao's vision — eyes are so useless — "what I am supposed to do?"
Zitao has no idea but he shouts back, "call emergency to report a gas leak or something and pull the fire alarm—" and then he's throught the lobby doors, the glass skipping shut between the dark shapes that slip though anyway.
He gives up trying to dodge the dark things; there are so many now, countless more streaming in, and he just takes a deep breath and forges ahead. It's cold; he loses his breath for a split second every time he passes through, but it's okay.
Zitao takes an elevator up to his floor where the dark things were first, but when he opends the door he stumbled on the threshold, breath ending in a sob. The hallway is black.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
The icy breathlessness slams into him like frigid water; he swims against a current that threatens to carry him away. But he knows this corridor, he knows his home like the back of his hand; eyes might lie but his memory has no flaws.
"Gas leak!" he shouts, pouding on doors. "Emergency evacuation!" He can hear confused shouts behind him but he struggles on, almost smiling when he can hear the fire alarm's scream slice through the air. He found it.
He stumbles down the steps to the next floor.
Zitao's voice is hoarse and his hands are trembling; the cold has filled his bones but his feet are still moving.
Ring, ring, ring...
It takes a moment for his icy ears to register the sound, and even longer for his frozen fingers to open his phone —"Yes?"
"Where are you?" Yifan's voice is scorching with fear, the emotion sending a jolt of warmth across Zitao's numb skin. "Get down here right now, the emergency crew is here and there are people running out of the building!"
Zitao could slump against the wall in relief but he has to keep moving.
That's when he feels the fingers on his arm.
The fingers aren't human, unless humans can press their fingers through skin and down to freeze his bones. He opens his eyes.
The dark things have cornered him in the stairwell; a solid mass of black and their faces —the place where faces should be — are turned as one in his direction. They don't have expressions, but he can feel the vibrations trembling in the air. They're furious. I'm taking away their souls. He should be terrified but he's smiling in relief — that means I did it. I helped them. He's still smiling when the long fingers wrap around his throat.
I'm sorry Yifan.
And then he hears it. Water. He snaps open his eyes and from the mirrored glass of the windows in the stairwell, the glass is reflecting back his face and —
She smiles at him, a single tear of thanks running down her face "thank you" before the water dragging her down reverses its flow, crashing through the glass and sweeping the dark things away; Zitao stumbles back.
There's glass in his eyes.
By the time he stumbles back to the main floor the tears running down his cheeks are mixed with red; Yifan is wrapping him in his arms and neither of them see the explosion that rocks the foundations of the building, the cascade of bricks and cement camouflaging the broken stairwell windows. They're already on the way to the hospital, Zitao resting his head on Yifan's shoulder as they drive.
"I'm afraid that you've once again lost your sight." The doctor sounds sad, sitting in the same cold office from what seems like lifetimes ago. But Zitao doesn't mind. He has his piano, his best friend Sehun, and now he has Yifan.
"We could put you on the list again?" The doctor's voice trails off, they both know that he'll move to the bottom of the list and the odds are low.
"No thank you." Zitao's voice is firm. I'm happy with where I am.
After the destruction of the apartment, it only made sense for him to go to the place where he was already staying, where things are familiar and the hot chocolate is sweet and the bed is warm.
He says good bye to the doctor, ignoring the waves of regret that fill the air. These aren't for him.
Yifan is waiting in the hallway; he can't see him but he knows he's there, just like he knows he has two hands, two legs, ten fingers. He shakes his head.
"Let's go home." Yifan gets to his feet and walks forward. resting a comforting hand on Zitao's shoulder, but he isn't sad.
Walking back to the car, he lifts his face up to the warmth of the sun and the sound of birds singing in the park.
It's brighter in the dark anyway.