"Damn it!" Shu bellows, slumping onto his bed. "We were so close too!"
"You wish," Song says through a mouthful of pork bun. "If Kiin was there, that means leaving through that tunnel was the worst possible option we could've picked."
"I know that! It's just..." Shu groans and sits upright. "And why're you acting so calm about this? We don't have much time left!"
"It's not like we can do anything about it..." Song glances at the doors of Shu's quarters, where the silhouettes of an Apprentice pair can be seen through the paper screens.
After being escorted back to Shu's quarters, Kiin has ordered the area to be kept under tight supervision and security. Now that everyone knows of their attempt at escape, there's no chance of them leaving without fighting every single Purger in the Palace.
But what bothers Song more is his short battle with the Blossom's leader. Despite going at full power, Kiin was able to meet every single one of his attacks with ease. Song had never felt so outclassed in physical prowess before; not even Long in his best days could come close to Kiin's ludicrous speed and strength.
Without Yin, you don't stand a chance against Father. Song has never taken Long's words so seriously before. Although he can no longer deny that unleashing his Yin is necessary to beat Kiin, Song has never once triggered it in his lifetime. He doesn't even know where to begin in order to bring out that sort of power from the Chariot.
"I can't beat him like this," Song mutters.
Shu muses on what he said for a moment. "Kiin?"
Shu looks as if he's about to berate him for that, but thinks the better of it. "I've never seen you fight that hard before."
"Really?" Song looks down at his hands, wondering if his training during all these years have been for naught. If no matter what he does isn't enough to beat Kiin, then at the very least... "You should leave the Palace without me."
Shu's clenches his fists. "What did you say?"
"You heard me." Song meets his partner's furious glare head-on. "Yan said it himself; you're allowed to leave whenever you want, but I'm not."
"That's not the point. You know I'm not—"
"Don't be stupid!" Song raises his voice. "There's no point in dying with me for a mistake I made."
"You're the one that's stupid here!" Shu screams, his face flushing red. "I can't live without you, idiot! I have no other reason to live!"
"Then find a new reason! Just get out of my way! I don't need you with me, understand?"
Shu delivers a tight slap across Song's face, so loud that he's sure the guards outside heard it too.
Song gingerly raises his hand to touch his reddened cheek. "Damn, the same spot where Kiin slapped me too? Give me a break..."
"Call it the Purger's curse, call it the Blossom's dirty tricks for raising us like this..." Shu says softly and deliberately, each word laced with a profound depth of desperation and anger. "But you're everything to me. I'll be with you until my very last breath, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
And Song knows there's no changing his partner's mind when he's like this. Even though he knew right from the start that Shu would never accept that choice, he still wanted to try and convince him otherwise. He just wants Shu to live; that is his only wish now, more than anything in the world.
"Really wonder who's the idiot around here." Song shrugs and hops onto Shu's bed.
"Do you even need to ask that question? The answer is the same as always— you," Shu says. "Anyway, we should try to come up with something else. Ah, maybe we can find a spot to dig in this dump... ... ..." and on and on he goes with his ideas, constantly trying to come up with something, no matter how ridiculous his ideas are.
Why is he trying so hard? Of all people, he should know best that it's impossible since we've lost the element of surprise. It suddenly dawns onto Song that perhaps Shu has always known this, even before today, that it's impossible to escape. But Shu is an extremely emotional boy— too emotional, Song often feels— and he's afraid of coming to terms with their fates. If he is the Shu that he's always known him for since they were children, then he must be doing all he can to blind himself from the truth to avoid breaking down.
It's my fault that you're suffering like this. I'm so sorry...
"Shu, that's enough," Song whispers, smiling sadly at his beloved partner.
"Huh?" Shu stops his chattering. "What're you on about?"
"It's enough." Song gets up from the bed and embraces his partner. "I'd like to enjoy my last day with you as a Purger."
Shu's face falls upon hearing this. "What... no! You can't give up!" He desperately grips Song's arm with both hands and wrenches hard. "Aren't you the one who's been obsessed with breaking out of this place since we were kids? Why're you so submissive now, of all times? You are going to die tomorrow! Answer me, you idiot! Song!"
The silver-haired boy dips his head, and something about that look causes Shu to panic harder.
"Shu, please..." he says softly. "If this is going to be our last day together, I don't want to spend it worrying about the inevitable."
"Song!" Shu's eyes are brimming with tears now. "You FUCKING IDIOT!"
Swiftly, Song moves in to kiss Shu on the lips. It's the only way he knows to calm his beloved partner down. As their tongues intertwine and their kiss deepen, Shu's anxiety slowly dispels, and in turn he feels protected by Song's embrace. It's a bittersweet feeling, but Shu knows it'd be foolish to reject it.
When their lips finally part, Song whispers, "It's been a long time since I've heard you play your flute."
Shu sniffles. "What? An oaf like you... actually knows how to appreciate music?"
"Oi, that's a little mean, even for you."
"I get it, I get it!" Shu pushes him away and wipes his tears and snot with the back of his hand. "Trying to act cool and dramatic in your last moments, huh? Fine, be that way. I'll make sure I find a song so emotional your pea-brain won't even be able to forget it in the afterlife."
"You're being superbly mean today..."
Shu takes the largest bamboo flute he has from a secret part of his room which is about two meters in length, with a thickness that makes it seem unwieldy. Song remembers Shu practising this huge flute a lot when they were Apprentices, before he went back to the smaller one.
Settling on the chair next to Song, Shu leans the top part of the massive flute on his shoulder. He begins to play.
The melody is unlike anything Song has ever heard before, even from his partner; gentle yet sonorous, a calming tune flows from the massive flute and fills his ears with its disembodied and elegant form, somehow finding its way to his heart and wrenching at his heartstrings. Song can feel Shu's depthless sorrow from the music. The long notes subtly waver, as if his voice is on the brink of tears, and the short notes blend seamlessly with them. The piece reminds Song of a tranquil sea embraced by the dying lights of a setting sun, the end of something short yet beautiful, and a sense of longing that goes unanswered.
Song doesn't know how much time has passed; Shu's music is hypnotising, like an invisible hand taking his soul and plunging him into a world free of strife, murder, despair, a world of woven by his tender emotions. Song feels his music spreading their arms towards him, ushering for him to shed this body of his, leave all of his pain behind and transcend into his partner's fabricated utopia.
The two spend the rest of their day reminiscing on the past, playing board games and even trying to get Song to learn some basic flute-playing. And as usual, Song proves to be hopelessly inept at anything involving the arts.
"Can you at least play the guzheng?" Shu sighs, bringing out yet another massive instrument, this time a long, rectangular box with about two dozen strings stretched and tied over a set of wooden stands he calls 'bridges'.
"More music thingies?" Song ogles at the device before him. "Wait, you can play this too?"
"Not as well as the more experienced Purgers, but I can manage a few traditional pieces if you want."
"Hoooh! Play one! Play one!"
And so he does. Shu begins to pluck the strings of the instrument with dreamlike grace and delicacy. Unlike the flute, the sounds from the guzheng are much sharper, but with a lingering echo after each note. Each note fluidly meshes over to the next, forming a wakeful and reverberating melody brimming with life and emotions.
"Now, your turn."
And once again, Song's clumsy fingers prove to be worthless despite Shu's patient teachings.
"You really are just a country bumpkin, aren't you?" Shu sighs in resignation.
"Shut up," Song retorts. "So I'm not good at reading, writing, painting or music..."
Shu rolls his eyes.
"But at least I'm good with my body. Is there an instrument I can play with my legs too? Or my whole arm?"
"What kind of country do you think this is?" Just when Shu is about to give up, an idea comes to his mind. "Maybe you could try practising your swordplay to the tune."
Relieved that it's something more familiar to him, Song nods makes his way to the centre of the room. Another soothing tune tingles from Shu's fingers. Song closes his eyes, soaking in the sharp but tranquil tune. Zhi materialises in his hand, and he begins to move. Song gently sways his body to the song, his blade softly weaving in the air; his movements are so fluid, so gentle and graceful that Shu can't help but watch slack-jawed as his partner continues with his dreamlike dance. While Song has always been graceful with the blade, there's always been a flare of ferociousness to his swordplay. Until now, Shu never knew Song could be so tender with the blade, the most feminine and beautiful dancer he's ever seen.
Shu can feel a skip in his heart; it's like he's falling in love with Song for the first time again.
What was meant to be house arrest has now mellowed to a day-long indoor honeymoon for the two Purgers. As the fiery evening rays creep through the doors' paper screens, an overwhelming sense of reluctance grips Song's heart. He wants this day with Shu to last forever, but even a 'pea-brained boy' like him knows it's impossible.
After finishing their dinner and taking their bath together, Song and Shu don their silky sleepwear and head for bed. Under the feeble light of the bedside candle, Shu's demeanour seems much softer than Song is used to, even with the ponytail that he often does up after his baths. As Shu pulls his hair tie aside and flips his luscious hair free, Song suddenly feels a burst of mature elegance radiating from his partner in that single, candid gesture.
Will this be the last time I see him flip his hair like that? Song thinks sadly to himself.
"What?" Shu notices his stare. "Your tiny brain ran out of thinking power again?"
Song ignores his jab and slowly reaches out to Shu's cheek, gently touching him. Shu's eyes widen in surprise at first, but soon accepts his tender gesture. The emotions of desperation and sorrow continues to swell within Song, so much that it's going out-of-control, as if he'll burst from all of the emotional agony. Shu must've noticed this, because tears pearl from his eyes, and he softly presses his own hand over Song's.
"Why does it have to be like this?" Song whispers with a strain in his voice.
"I don't want to go."
"It's okay." Shu uses both hands and pulls Song's face close, pressing his forehead against his partner lovingly. "Don't cry, please."
Song has only cried once before, after the first time he killed someone in his life as a young child. He swore since then that he would never cry, and that he has to be strong for Shu.
"Please don't cry," Shu repeats softly.
"If only I didn't let my hatred get the better of me..."
"It's not your fault. Please don't blame yourself."
Song can no longer speak; he knows that if he says another word, he'll completely break down before his partner, inconsolable.
Shu smiles and leans back. He slowly unbuttons his silky pyjamas top, revealing his toned body before Song. Song knows what he's trying to do. He accepts his partner's offer to ease his pain. He takes Shu's naked waist and lays him on the bed. Song's silver hair spills down as he leans over his partner. Past the tears, Shu's eyes are full of warmth, of love, and Song feels as if he's melting into them, slowly falling into the embrace of his partner's mesmeric eyes.
Song lowers himself and presses his lips against Shu's. He accepts. It's the most tender kiss he has ever shared with his partner; Song can feel his spirit intertwine with Shu's, their intense emotions that could never be described in words spilling into one another's souls.
A Purger's love is tragic, but despite everything, no single Purger regrets his love for his partner. Tonight, Song finally understands what it truly means to be one.