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It starts with a text message. 

[ Hello, Mo Ran. ] is written in bold black letters, the white background piercing through Taxian-Jun’s eyes as he reads the message in the dark of his bedroom.

Chu Wanning never called him by that name.

It was always Mo Weiyu. Whether it’s as mundane as a polite greeting whenever the man sees him or an angry huff whenever Taxian-Jun does something mildly unacceptable in Chu Wanning’s standards. It used to baffle him, why the man doesn’t want to call him by his first name. Maybe he wants to distance himself from Taxian-Jun as much as possible, put a deep chasm that no one could ever cross between them.

Taxian-Jun thinks it’s for the better.

[ Wow, this really works. ] He replies. There’s a few seconds where three blinking dots appeared to signify that the Chu Wanning he’s talking to is typing before he got a response.

[ Why do you think it won’t? ]

Why did he think it wouldn't work? Taxian-Jun doesn’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want it to in the first place. Maybe it’s too good to be true.

Taxian-Jun gathers his head in his hands and thinks about how it has come to this. Chu Wanning is dead, yet he’s talking to him like nothing happened and he’s just away on a business trip or running some errands. Chu Wanning likes to be out of the house, after all. Taxian-Jun knows that he’d rather die than stay in the same space with him for more than ten hours.

[ Mo Ran? ] There it is again. Taxian-Jun wants to believe that it’s true; that Chu Wanning is actually calling him by his first name and not a system that is based on the bits and pieces that he left while he was still in this world. 

Eyebrows furrowing, Taxian-Jun types up a reply. [ I don’t know. All of this just seems weird to me. ]

[ It is a strange mechanism. ] Chu Wanning answers. This time, Taxian-Jun had to wait for a whole minute before he got a reply. [ Personally, I don’t like the concept of it. What’s gone is gone, there’s no point in fooling yourself into thinking that you can have it back. ]

Taxian-Jun stares at the message, then laughs dryly. 

Even in death, Chu Wanning doesn’t want to do anything with him.

Taxian-Jun just wanted to try it out; this whole bringing back your ‘loved one’ thing was supposed to be a one-time thing. He just wanted to scratch the itch that had been starting to annoy him ever since Chu Wanning died, that’s all.

But it’s been three months.

Three months since he started talking with this… this made-up Chu Wanning that an intelligent system created for him. Three months that he spent acting like a fool, but he doesn’t want to stop. Not now, and maybe not ever.

Which is ironic, because you see, Taxian-Jun hates Chu Wanning. Hates that he’s so uptight and prickly when Taxian-Jun knows all too well how pliant and submissive he can get under his provocation. Hates that his mouth says one thing but his body says another, that whenever he looks at Taxian-Jun it’s always laced with disdain. Taxian-Jun never failed to voice these out everytime he had the chance to, after all, the feeling is mutual anyways.

Now, Taxian-Jun is acting like Chu Wanning never left in the first place. He still goes on with his day, texts Chu Wanning every detail of how his day went, and Chu Wanning would reply in a manner that sounds like him but doesn’t feel like him.

It’s what keeps Taxian-Jun grounded to reality, he thinks. Because the real Chu Wanning would have never replied to his ramblings at all, and would only offer him a noncommittal grunt or a scathing glare in return.

He doesn’t know if he likes the sudden change or not.

[ You hate me. ] He says during one drunken night. He wants to see how this Chu Wanning will take it. Taxian-Jun can’t help but wring his fingers while waiting for a reply.

[ Why do you think so? ]

It’s a simple question, yet Taxian-Jun is at a loss for words. 

[ You hate me. ] Taxian-Jun repeats, which pathetically sounds like he’s reminding himself rather than Chu Wanning. [ You called me a disappointment, a person beyond saving back then. You despise me for forcing you to live with me. ]

Chu Wanning takes a longer time to reply, as if his system doesn’t know how to respond to a statement like that. Well, maybe it can’t. What this system knows about Chu Wanning is nothing compared to how he’s actually like when he was alive, and Taxian-Jun knows that this version of him will never be up to par.

[ I don’t think you’re a disappointment. ] Taxian-Jun sneers the moment he sees the words flash on the tiny screen of his phone. [ And I may get angry from time to time, but I would never hate you. ]

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Taxian-Jun throws the phone to an obscure corner of the bed as he plops himself down on the soft mattress, one arm covering his face. He feels his throat tighten, the tips of his eyes sting and he loathes the feeling of it. Fuck Chu Wanning. Fuck everything else.

And fuck him for wanting to believe his made-up words.

[ Should I give you a call? ] Chu Wanning texts one day, when Taxian-Jun is too busy doing paperworks that he can’t spare the time to type a reply. 

Taxian-Jun stares at the message, then chuckles, disbelief painting his tone. He must be going crazy. Texting is one thing, sure, but Chu Wanning can’t possibly rise from the grave and give him a call just like that. Everything about this whole situation is ridiculous.

[ Stop fucking around, Chu Wanning. ] He replies instead to kill the tiny piece of hope bubbling in his chest. 

Chu Wanning, however, is persistent. [ If you can supply my memory with videos of Chu Wanning, I can copy his voice and speech patterns and integrate it into my system. ]

“Are you fucking serious right now.” Taxian-Jun glares at his phone like it had done a heinous crime against him. He really shouldn’t accept this proposition. In fact, he should stop talking to this poor imitation of Chu Wanning altogether before he drives himself to madness. 

Chu Wanning’s voice… Certainly Taxian-Jun wouldn’t want to hear it again, right? That icy tone that only knows how to spew harsh remarks and profanities whenever he’s in a ten-meter radius from Taxian-Jun. Only a lunatic would dare want to hear the voice of a dead man they despised their whole life.

But hours later, as Taxian-Jun sits down on a bed stained with far too many memories of the man he hates the most, he finds himself scrolling through his phone’s gallery in search of any video that has Chu Wanning in it. Unfortunately, the only videos he can find are the ones taken in the throes of passion, where Chu Wanning is fucked hard enough that he’s too weak to dispute and push Taxian-Jun away. It’s obscene, yes, but it’s the only memory of Chu Wanning’s voice that he has. 

He uploads everything to his computer, eyes trailing over the image of Chu Wanning splayed open on the very bed that Taxian-Jun is sitting on, eyes rolled to the back of his head and mouth hung open. Taxian-Jun remembers that night very well; he and Chu Wanning had a particularly nasty argument that ended in Taxian-Jun roughly shoving him on a wall and fucking him until his legs gave out.

He also remembers that Chu Wanning winced everytime Taxian-Jun touched his left shoulder after that incident. He found out a few days later that Chu Wanning had a sprained shoulder that must be from when Taxian-Jun had pushed him against a wall.

Chu Wanning was adamant at first, but he let Taxian-Jun wrap his shoulder up after much protesting. It was one of their quieter days, if not the only one.

The system took some time recognizing and integrating Chu Wanning’s voice, so much that Taxian-Jun is starting to doze off when his laptop chimes to notify that it’s done.

Taxian-Jun’s phone rings on his bedside table. 

“Well, here goes nothing.” He says to himself before answering the call.

He’s met with silence. Then, a low, familiar voice starts to speak. “Mo Ran?”

Taxian-Jun grits his teeth. That ugly feeling at the back of his throat makes its presence known again, and oh, how he hates.

Chu Wanning says it like an offhanded statement.

“There’s another level to this system , per se, that is not really known by many users.” He says it like he’s talking about the goddamn weather, like he doesn’t know what this can entail to Taxian-Jun and their complicated relationship. “An exact replica of Chu Wanning. One that can speak and act just like him.”

“You’re crazy.” Taxian-Jun retorts. “You’re fucking crazy if you think that I would want to see him again.”

Chu Wanning is silent on the other line, and if Taxian-Jun doesn’t know better he would think that the man is just purposefully dragging this whole thing along to rile him up. After a few agonizing seconds, he hears Chu Wanning speak again.

“It’s just a suggestion, Mo Ran. No need to think deeply about it.”

A huge package arrives at Taxian-Jun’s doorstep not even two days after that conversation.

Chu Wanning doesn’t say anything about it, instead, he guides Taxian-Jun throughout the process. The box contains a plethora of human parts that looks too lifelike it’s scary. It doesn’t look like Chu Wanning, but he told Taxian-Jun that it will morph into the shape of Chu Wanning’s face and body once he soaks it in the special solution that came with the synthetic body parts. 

This is all fucking weird. And Taxian-Jun can’t believe that he’s actually doing this. 

“Remember to mix the electrolytes with the solution.” A voice far too gentle for Taxian-Jun’s liking snaps him out of his reverie. “And let it soak for at least a few hours. Don’t turn on the lights until the process is done.”

And so Taxian-Jun waits. The light at the end of the hallway where his bathroom lies seems like it’s mocking him, making fun of his crazy obsession towards a man who’s already rotting away six feet underground. First it was the texts, then the calls, and now he’s going to play pretend with a piece of synthetic flesh just to sate this lingering obsession that lurks deep within his bones.

The sun outside begins to set, and amidst it all, Taxian-Jun still waits. It’s been five hours now, Chu Wanning’s voice on his phone disappeared more than an hour ago, saying that he has to reboot and get accustomed to his new ‘body.’ 

He hears water splashing from the bathroom. A few seconds later, the door opened.

Phoenix eyes.

Bright, ferocious phoenix eyes are the first thing Taxian-Jun sees. They are as sharp as ever, holding an air of austere gentleness that only Chu Wanning can deliver. Everything is just how it was before Chu Wanning died; the high slope of his nose, the thin lips that strangely never loses its rosy hue, the long, slender neck, everything. It sends Taxian-Jun reeling, like he can’t believe the person that’s standing right in front of him.

“Mo Ran?” Oh God, it speaks. It sounds so much like Chu Wanning now that there’s a body to accompany it. Taxian-Jun’s fists clench at his side. “Are you just going to let me drip all over the floor?”

Taxian-Jun averts his eyes away, lest he’ll be burned by those damned phoenix eyes.

“Don’t call me Mo Ran.” He says slowly, his words coming out more forced than anything. “Mo Weiyu. Call me Mo Weiyu.”

Dying is such a cruelly selfish act.

Chu Wanning’s death was supposed to be a cause for a celebration. A reminder for Taxian-Jun that finally, the everpresent pest in his life is gone forever. Never to return. 

And yet, the death of the man he hates the most left him empty, like his chest had been flayed open and emptied of its contents. He fills it back up with pretentious anger that he tries so hard to uphold thinking that it might drive the lingering thoughts of Chu Wanning away. But alas, everything that Taxian-Jun had done to erase a dead man out of his life has been proven fruitless.

And now, the man himself stands in front of Taxian-Jun. Wearing the same clothes he used to wear when he was alive. Like nothing happened at all.

But something, something has changed. Taxian-Jun can feel it in the way Chu Wanning looks at him. His once seething gaze seems to have been watered down, his words not spoken in a curt manner like before. It rattles Taxian-Jun’s mind, drives him insane.

A nagging voice at the back of his head preens at the sudden change in Chu Wanning’s actions, one that Taxian-Jun refuses to listen to, no matter how much it insists that he craves the more sincere Chu Wanning of today. He hates it.

He hates everything about it.

If there’s one thing that Taxian-Jun can’t change, though, it’s that his body will always respond to the image of Chu Wanning, no matter that he’s a piece of molded plastic and a congregation of numbers and calculations. The call of the flesh that he gets whenever he so much as looks at Chu Wanning is a feeling that he’s more than accustomed to, and he sighs in relief at the tiny piece of familiarity in this otherwise bizarre situation.

“Come here.” Taxian-Jun orders gruffly. Chu Wanning walks closer to him until they are no more than half a meter apart. “I’m sure you know what’s going to happen.”

Chu Wanning blinks. “You’re going to have sex with me.”

Taxian-Jun scoffs.

“Should I undress?”

Taxian-Jun stops in his tracks. No, this is all wrong. He would have been slapped by now. Chu Wanning would have left this room with disgust in his steps, cursing at Taxian-Jun like the latter can’t just drag him by the arm and have his way with him whether he liked it or not. Taxian-Jun had done it many, many times. Too many times that it almost seemed like routine.

This is not what he’s used to.

“Don’t fucking test me, Chu Wanning.” He takes a deep breath. “Are you just playing with me? You’ll slap my face the moment I lay a hand on you, won’t you?”

“Would he?” Chu Wanning answers, and it takes everything in Taxian-Jun to not grab him by the shoulders and shake him until the snarkiness and the anger comes back. Until he’s Chu Wanning again. “I’m sorry, My information about Chu Wanning is limited and I can’t formulate an accurate response to this. Would you like me to get mad at you?”

“Fuck you!” Taxian-Jun grabs one arm as tight as he can. He walks forward until Chu Wanning is pinned against a wall. “If you’re the real Chu Wanning then you would have struggled! You would have cursed me to death and walked out of this goddamn house! You’re not him!”

Dying is such a cruelly selfish act.

“I am not Chu Wanning.” The man says. He’s no more than a stranger to Taxian-Jun now. “Chu Wanning is dead, and I am the mere wisps of life that he left in this world.”

You’re so selfish, Chu Wanning.