Chapter 1: Prologue
[我 命 由 我 不由 天] "My destiny depends on me and not on the heavens"
"... Ge, I beg you, I beg you to stop talking, please shut up. Help ..."**
"Qing Xuan, ge ge will come forward first. I'll wait for you down there ..." **
Crack. Pain is a lightning, a sword that tears. Then silence. And darkness.
Nothing remains. No pain. No screaming. No despair .Silence. And emptiness.
The void is very similar to water: dense, satin ... it swallows you, it devours you. Until there is nothing left of you. The void encompasses everything.
It is so simple to let yourself be swallowed, devoured, crumbled into fragments so small that it is as if there were nothing left ...
"Ge, I beg you ..."**
He speaks. He- WHO?
You know that voice. You have always known it- even before silence and emptiness. Wasn't the emptiness always here?
He is small and delicate. A lump of black curls and luminous eyes, a chirp between white and blue silks.
"Gege has come to find me?"
There is hope in his voice. He is thin and graceful like a reed that grows, like a lotus that dances in the water.
The child's hand disappears in yours and his laughter sings in your heart.
Yes you come looking for him. To protect him.
"I'm scared! I'm scared! He said I was going to fall and-and-and ... I fell! I fell, gege! Your food -your food. I dropped the food I brought you! I'm scared, ge ge! ”
Fear. Fear? His shoulders tremble, his lips tremble, his eyelashes tremble ... Fear? Who dares to put fear in those phoenix eyes?
No, no, don't be afraid.
You extend a hand to cover the teary eyes, as if you could erase the fear in them.
“I trust ge ge. If you say you will protect me, I know you will. ”
He smiles. There is a veil of sadness in that smile, which if even wanting to believe you he did not dare. But he believes you. He believes you because you are his only world, his friend, his protector, his older brother. It is your obligation, your duty - your privilege - to take care of him.
"... Ge, I beg you, I beg you to stop talking, please shut up. Help ..."**
His voice dies in a sob. Chains. His face is dirty. Blood - your blood. What…?
Qing Xuan, ge ge will come first. I wait for you down there ... **
Down. And you wait. You wait until the end of the world, until your soul is rearmed and shines in the dark. But he does not arrive. He arrives not.
There are screams, howls, groans. There is pain, despair, hunger. There is no more emptiness. Thousands of bodies are pressed against you, suffocating you, pushing you down ... but none is he.
Qing Xuan ...
Where…? Where are you, Qing Xuan? Di di?
Screams, despair, anger ... death. But he is not there and there are too many ... too many for you to get them apart, see between them, above them ... so you do whatever it takes to clear the way.
You bite. You tear. You devour.
There is no reincarnation. Gods do not reincarnate. Gods do not return ...
“If I die, there is no way you can live in this world, so you can come with me! “ **
But he did not come. Had He Xuan forgiven him in the end? He had…?
No. There was no forgiveness. Mortal. Stripped of his spiritual power. A simple human who dies hit by a cart, victim of a disease, killed in an alley by petty thieves ... Mortal. Qing Xuan, your little brother, the brother for whom you did everything, for which you committed horrible crimes, for which you would have changed the course of the world -died in loneliness, in darkness, in oblivion. Qing Xuan, who was born to shine, to laugh, to make others happy, to make you happy.
Gods do not reincarnate ... but Qing Xuan will - because he died as a mere mortal. Qing Xuan will return and when he does ... no one will touch him again.
Who can kill a demon? A Supreme?
Do you think you are strong, He Xuan? Do you think yourself fair? You have no idea…
Qing Xuan, ge ge will come first.**
Gods do not reincarnate ...
My destiny depends on me and not on the heavens! **
Gods do not return ...
** From the novel
Hong Kong, 2018
Shi Huan descended the subway and checked his watch. With ten to one left, he barely had time to take a quick shower before starting his shift. He hurried through to pass through the door before it closed behind the two girls who had just entered.
"Ah Huan," the older of the two greeted, raising an eyebrow as she glanced at the mobile screen to check the time. “You are late.”
"I know, Song Xia," the young man nodded, bowing his head in shame. “But we had this practical class that didn't seem to end and Professor Lee kept giving directions and talking, and talking and ...”
"Whatever, Shi Huan," Song Xia interrupted impatiently. “Just change before Mr. Chu notices that you are late. Once again.”
Shi Huan nodded strongly several times and ran to advance them to the second floor, where the restaurant where the three worked was.
After his quick shower and with long hair in a tight bun at the back of his head, Shi Huan really provided a beautiful image dressed in the green and gold qipao that constituted the uniform of ‘The Sacred Lotus’. Regular customers knew him well and left generous tips: Shi Huan was one of those people who were always smiling, finding the funny side of the situation no matter how bad it was. His character and his ability to 'conquer' the most demanding customers was the main cause of the restaurant's owner, Mr. Chu, forgiving his late arrivals with no more than a brief wake-up call: after all, Shi Huan was his secret weapon to avoid complaints and dissatisfactions. It was for the same reason that once the restaurant closed its doors - after ten o'clock at night - the owner included the boy among the people he gathered in his office.
Half an hour later, when Shi Huan arrived at his apartment ... well, the department he shared with Ming Yi, found that his partner had not yet arrived. Without wasting time, he went to the small kitchen and left the bag with the food they gave him in the restaurant. He searched the fridge and prepared dinner. He had eaten at ‘The Sacred Lotus’ and it was likely that Ming Yi had already eaten something on the street; but if something had Ming Yi it was always hunger. It seems he was not able to fill up, Shi Huan considered with a half-smile as he worked in the kitchen.
Shi Huan himself was of good food and sometimes worried that if he had passed it would affect his weight and his image of ‘Chinese elf ’, as his classmates called him. However, Ming-xiong was something serious at meal-time: Shi Huan had seen him devour ten well-served portions as if nothing. It was surprising that he kept that spiky figure - although it was possible that going always dressed in black would help give that image.
When he finished filling the first bowl, the apartment door opened and Shi Huan listened when the keys were left on the living room table. He turned to microwave the meat to heat and when he went back to the wood-clad bar, he barely took a look at the man standing in the kitchen doorway.
“A lot of work today, eh?” Shi Huan inquired while still arranging the dishes. “You arrived late. I thought you would have to eat only what I brought if you had already finished what I left in the fridge. By the way, I'm going to leave this for breakfast: try not to eat it in the early morning or you'll have to go buy bread early if you want me to do something before you leave.”
Ming Yi did not answer. Silently, he approached the table and sat on one of the backless sidewalks. He took one of the bowls and started eating.
"Try the meat," suggested the other, pushing the plate within reach. “Tony is trying a new recipe and it was a great success today. Although he says something is missing”, he shrugged. “Tomorrow will no longer taste the same.”
Shi Huan was not bothered by his partner's lack of response. Instead, he looked for a beer and sat on the other side of the bar to drink. Noticing that Ming Yi looked up from his main course and frowned at the bottle, he asked innocently:
“Wanna try one?”
"Yes." Finally, Ming Yi considered it appropriate to use words to communicate.
"Wow," the younger one raised an eyebrow. “You really want it if you took the job of modulating at least one monosyllable. I don't know how you can be silent for so long, Ming-xiong. Are you doing voice rest?” He watched suspiciously. “Won't you have been cheating on me all this time and will you be a singer instead of a real estate agent?”
The other young man narrowed his eyes to watch him impatiently. Shi Huan made a mocking face and went to get him beer. After returning to his seat and having a long drink, he commented again:
"Next week we have an important event at the restaurant. Mr. Chu told us that someone important had rented the place for his daughter's engagement party. So far, the hiring has been confidential, so Mr. Chu did not want to tell us who our client is; but I've been thinking ... how many millionaires have a daughter about to get married? Mr. Tony Wang, Madame Mei ... the president of Tomorrowland Toys ... Mr. Branstond ... Eddy Leung ...”
"Half of the population with money has a marriage daughter," Ming Yi growled, putting aside the empty bowl.
"I was going to start discarding candidates after listing them," the youngest complained. “You didn't let me finish exercising my detective skills.”
"Your detective skills stink. It's late and you have classes early”, prevented him from replicating while standing up.
Shi Huan pouted; but after a moment he followed his example, standing up and collecting the dishes, which they washed in silence. The university student was the one who turned off the lights after they finished and went to his room. Ming Yi went straight to the bathroom and the youngest just shook his head as he undressed without turning on the lights in his room.
It was two years now that he shared apartment with Ming Yi. Xian Le had presented them shortly before Shi Huan starting university since they both needed to rent an apartment near the center and it was convenient for them to lower expenses equally. Ming Yi was a friend of San Lang, Xian Le's lifelong boyfriend and although Shi Huan had failed to elucidate exactly where Ming Yi was from or where his family was –if there were any families, both young men had assured the undergraduate that the estate agent was someone calm and trustworthy. In addition, Xian told his friend that San Lang had threatened Ming Yi to dismember and skin him if he hurt Shi Huan. It was nice to feel protected that way, especially after losing his parents when he was just a teenager; but sometimes Shi Huan was scared of how much Xian Le and his boyfriend cared about him, as if they expected any misfortune to happen every second.
Shi Huan combed his hair slowly as he stared at the city through the window.
After two years, Shi Huan wasn't sure he knew his roommate. He knew very little about his life, both current and past and spent little time together. They did not share tastes and were rather like opposite sides of a coin. While Shi Huan preferred to wear light and cheerful colors, and was a fan of fashion magazines and celebrities, Ming Yi always went in dark tones and his idea of fun was to eat without having to worry about the bill - which usually happened when San Lang invited. Everyone knew the hairs and signs of Shi Huan's life while Ming Yi was like a shadow just emerging from the void. However, despite these differences, a month ago the relationship between them had taken a turn of ... well, it had deviated in 90 degrees so as not to overdo it.
Shi Huan had had relationships before. Since he was fifteen he had decided that he was bisexual because of what boys and girls had gone through his bed without sorrows or glories ... until Ming Yi. It was difficult to know if the fact of having had sex - and having repeated the experience twice after the first time - had changed something between them. Shi Huan felt it had done it; but if the other did not consider it that way, he could move on without major difficulties. Eh ... well, he would miss sex if he should give up on that.
He turned in place with a sigh, ready to go to bed and froze when he discovered his partner on the other side of the bed.
"I was convinced I had closed the door," he said casually.
"You didn't," Ming Yi clarified dryly.
Shi Huan rolled his eyes and started toward the bed.
"Obviously I didn't," he grumbled as he removed the comforter. Already below this, he cast a glance at the other young man. “Do you plan on getting to bed at some point? Or did you just come to say good night?”
Ming Yi made a face of annoyance and released the cord of the gown, getting naked.
Shi Huan felt his throat dry. He looked the athletic body, stopping at the silver ring that pierced the left nipple, in the planes of the hard abdomen, in the tight thighs, in the dark curls that surrounded the base of the sex partially erected. The heat on his cheeks told him he was blushing. With an effort, he looked away and crossed his arms in front of the body to get rid of the shirt. He noticed the sinking of the mattress that indicated Ming Yi's approach and forced himself not to turn in his direction. It was ... really uncomfortable to be so obvious in his emotions.
Ming Yi knelt next to Shi Huan and extending a hand, pulled his hair from his shoulder.
Shi Huan's skin was like porcelain, clear and delicate, contrasting with the dark tone of himself. He let his fingers run down the curve of the shoulder, until holding the delicate hand, with fine fingers. A part of Shi Huan was exquisitely feminine and that ... It wasn't that he preferred women. In fact, deep down, he was convinced that he only liked the man in front of him; but the beauty of Shi Huan was unique, unmatched ... or maybe it was matched and that was precisely his greatest charm.
Shi Huan raised his face to receive a soft kiss on the lips. He already knew that Ming Yi would not be impatient, would not be rude, would not exceed the limits. It was as if he feared to harm him, as if he could not bear to harm him. Shi Huan would have wanted to tell him that he was not made of glass, that he was not a flower that would be defoliated by a little force; but it was better to let the other go at his own pace - at least until they gained confidence.
As every time, Ming Yi would take his time to worship his lover's body. He would walk it with slow caresses, making sure not to leave marks, tracing each curve and each angle with the fingertips, kissing and licking until it was ecstatic. He would prepare him slowly, drinking his groans, holding him against him almost too softly. Then, he would penetrate him without haste, watching the slightest sign of discomfort, taking his face to look him in the eye while he possessed him, taking him to orgasm a second time before letting go. In the end, he would always wrap him up and force him to sleep, reminding him that he had classes early.
Ming Yi sat up on one elbow to contemplate Shi Huan's face. He slept.
It was amazing how, on each occasion, this idiot would trust him from the start. It was amazing how, on each occasion, this idiot would steal his heart.
Extending a finger, he slipped it from Shi Huan's brow to his nose, to parted lips, to his thin chin ...
"QingXuan ...?" He whispered for the umpteenth time in those two years.
For the umpteenth time, the other did not react.
Lightning illuminated the bedroom through the windows, forcing Ming Yi to look up at the sky. In the distance, clouds accumulated, drawing sinister formations and the young man frowned. At that moment, he was certain that ‘something’ was approaching and instinctively, he hugged the sleeping man.
If you want to get an idea of how the characters look like in this Modern AU, go around this board on Pinterest.
Xing Ye (Chinese model): Shi Huan - Shi QingXuan
Kamenashi Kazuya (Japanese actor): Ming Yi - He Xuan
Daniel Henney (Korean American actor): Nicholas Long - Shi WuDu.
Chapter 3: 2
“It has to be a joke. One hundred and fifty guests? We barely supply eighty and we are running from side to side with almost double. I can’t take this. My feet are bleeding!”
Shi Huan smiled upon hearing Song Xia's complaints. The older girl stopped for a moment in the kitchen, leaning on one of the tables to take off a shoe and rub one foot on top of the other.
"It's just an engagement dinner," said the young man. “Imagine how it will be when we work at the wedding banquet.”
Song Xia turned to him, her eyes wide and her mouth deformed in a grimace of horror.
"Don't play, A-Huan!"
“I don’t! It's what Mr. Chu wants. Come on, Jiejie, think of all the money we will earn, the sweets we will eat after the guests leave, the celebrities we will see ...”
“The pains in my feet and in my arms, in my waist killing me for a week, in the tantrums that this spoiled little princess will ride if something does not go as she wants… You saw the one she put together just because her chair was not taller than the others! No one said she must have a taller chair ...!”
“Come on! Come on! There are people out there who are hungry and thirsty. What are you doing in here yet?”
Shi Huan winked at his coworker and they both armed themselves with a tray of hors d'oeuvres to return to the lounge, passing by the restaurant owner.
The young man moved easily among the guests, always smiling and waiting silently for everyone to take what they wanted. Although there were several tables with different dishes for everyone to perform a self-service, some guests preferred freshly prepared food. Shi Huan did not understand what the difference could be; but the rich were that eccentric and ...
“Oh my God. It has to be a fucking joke.”
The young man turned to look at Song Xia. The girl closed her eyes, sighing in disguise and looked at Shi Huan to indicate something with her head. Following her signal, the university student looked at the other end of the room ... and felt his heart go to his throat.
Ban Yue was one of the newest in the restaurant. She was a very hardworking girl although somewhat awkward ... and had just spilled a glass of wine on the costume of one of the guests.
"Take care of this," Shi Huan ordered the nearest waiter while handing him his tray and hurried to go along with his friend.
Arriving with Ban Yue and the guest, the young man outlined his most charming smile and said:
“Goodnight, sir. If you are so kind to accompany me, we will take care of cleaning your suit while my companion here looks for another drink.”
"Rather than another waitress get me the drink."
Shi Huan blinked when the man stood up, turning in front of him.
He was almost ten centimeters taller than Shi Huan, so he had to throw his head back. The brown tone of his skin suggested long hours outdoors and the elegant suit of some European brand delineated an athletic body, almost too hard for the sophistication of his outfit. The dark eyes held the gaze of the waiter, who made an effort to divert attention ... just to look at the man's mouth. Sensual lips pursed, dark pink, the soft impression of a disdainful smile on the right corner ... Shi Huan could not look away from that mouth.
"So, boy?" asked the guest. “Can you show me the way?”
“Yes. Please follow me.”
Shi Huan turned on his heel and began to walk, too aware of the presence of the man behind him. It had to be a joke. He thought he knew the most attractive men in the world ... well, he knew Xian Le since he was a teenager and the social worker's boyfriend was the non plus ultra of male beauty. Ming Yi wasn't bad either; but there was something about this guy that gave him goosebumps.
He opened the door of the employee locker room and waited for the man to come in to close again.
"If you give me your jacket and your shirt, I can ..."
"I think you better get me a clean shirt: you can throw this one away."
Shi Huan was going to protest when he realized that the man had stripped off his coat and untied his tie. Before he managed to open his mouth, the other was half-naked in the - suddenly too narrow – dressing room.
"I'm sure we can bleach it, mister ..."
“Long. Nicholas Long. Do you have a name, hero to the rescue?” Asked the man raising an eyebrow.
Although his words seemed cordial, his tone was still distant, cold, arrogant.
"Shi Huan, Mr. Long. Let me…”
He took the shirt without looking up at the muscular planes of the chest and abdomen. The only trace of hair was a thin line that began below the navel and descended to disappear under the waistband of the pants: Shi Huan almost grimaced when a mental image assaulted him. Shit! Ming Yi shouldn't be on one of his trips. And that abdomen was a damn chocolate tablet! What kind of lazy richman was this?
He moved away from the man in a hurry and searched through the ironed clothes until he found a shirt that complied with the measures.
"If you give us your address, we will send you your shirt once the problem is solved."
"I said you can throw it away. I will not miss a shirt. Except to get out of here of course. Can you do something for my jacket? If not, you can also throw it away.”
Throw an Armani? He was mad?
The smile that slept in the right corner of the man’s mouth relaxed, curling his lips and pressing a dimple in his cheek.
"No, kid, I'm not crazy. I'm rich, do you forget it?”
Shi Huan blinked, stunned.
"I said it out loud, right?"
Nicholas Long narrowed his eyes, with an amused expression.
"It wasn't necessary. Your face ... is an open book. You shouldn't be so honest.”
"They tell so me all the time, Mr. Long. By the way, I'm going to clean your jacket and you'll have it before you leave. Eh ... I would like to ask you ... if it is not much daring on my part ...”
"That I don't complain to the owner about your friend. Is that?”
“You are right.”
"Like an open book," he shook his head. “Don't worry, brat; I will not harm your friend. But she's quite awkward and you can't always rescue her. You can't always rescue everyone. Maybe they should leave her in the kitchen ...”
"She is not ... a good cook."
"In cleaning then. Wherever she doesn't cause problems. You can't help everyone with your smile, kid.” He turned and headed for the door, but stopped when he opened it. “And throw the jacket. Or keep it. If you appreciate an Armani so much.”
He Xuan looked at the dark surface of the water. In the middle of the lake, a rocky plateau rose. On top of this, an altar contained four urns.
The Demon King's gaze swept the altar. He took a step toward the water while making a movement by rotating his fingers like a fan that closes. A small wave rose from the smooth surface and on top of it, He Xuan crossed the lake to the mound.
He descended to earth with an agile and silent jump. At a glance, he checked that the polls were intact and let out a sigh of relief even though he didn't need to breathe. However, he frowned when he realized that something was missing. By narrowing his eyes, he inspected the altar a second time, making sure that the spiritual seals, the identification tablets, the offerings ... everything was still in the same place. The offerings ... the offerings!
The Demon King Black Waters pounced on the offerings, searching among them impatiently. Many of the gifts deposited there were renewed every year; but some ... some had been inviolated for millennia. An iron urn occupied the bottom of the pile of offerings and He Xuan took it with caution, as if he feared that some danger might arise from within.
And so it could happen, he admitted inwardly when he realized that the seals were broken.
Broken. The seals were broken. He lifted the lid to just find the void inside.
He Xuan covered the urn again and left it on the altar near the other four. He turned on the spot, watching the cave.
Much had changed in centuries, millennia; but his desire for justice, for revenge ... had not diminished. Shi WuDu's body had been undone, joining the lands that were covered by the lake a thousand years ago. The head of the Water Tyrant, however, had been offered to the dead, his dead, and in that urn it had been consumed until it was only dust. Damn dust that had now disappeared. Stolen.
The seals had been broken and someone had taken the job of collecting every last drop of ashes from the urn.
He Xuan felt the urge to check the four urns that contained the remains of his family; but one glance was enough to verify that the seals were the ones he put. Whoever broke into his sanctuary had only interest in the remains of Shi WuDu.
The image of the sleeping Shi Huan came to his memory. No, Shi Huan had no idea who he was, who he had been. Also, in case the memories of his previous life come back, what could Shi Huan do? He was a human like any other, with no more power than his delicious beauty and his always annoying joy - as if at every opportunity, that idiot was meant to be a ray of light and laughter wherever he went.
He forced himself to concentrate on what mattered now. The ashes of Shi WuDu. And the fact that someone had entered the abode of the Demon King Black Waters to steal them.
"Shi Huan-xiong, I think I'm in trouble."
The young man turned to find Ban Yue with his head buried between her shoulders and her hands clenched in her lap.
“A-Yue, why that face? What happen?”
“He’s there. The man I ... threw the wine on ... is there.”
Shi Huan had to make an effort not to run to the kitchen door to take a look outside and make sure that Nicholas Long was really there. With apparent calm, he stripped off his apron and fixed his hair before putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Easy, girl. I'll go see why he has returned, yes? I don't think you have problems.”
The girl nodded vigorously as he headed for the saloon.
As soon as he entered, Shi Huan glanced around and his gaze stopped at the man sitting alone next to one of the windows that overlooked the inner garden. Turning his face, he looked for Song Xia with his eyes and when he got her attention, he nodded. When the girl spotted the client, she raised her eyebrows; but Shi Huan gave her a reassuring smile as he started walking towards Mr. Long's table.
"Good evening, Mr. Long," he said formally. “Welcome to ‘The Sacred Lotus ’. I will be your waiter tonight.”
Nicholas Long did not look up from his wine glass, content to nod when the young man handed him the menu in a black leather case.
During dinner, the man showed no signs of remembering that Shi Huan was the same waiter who got him a clean shirt. The boy told himself that a man like him must see many faces daily to remember that of a simple food server. Despite this logic, a slight stinging had begun in his chest, causing a pout curled his mouth every time he turned away from the table. He was tempted to mention that he kept the jacket and could send it to him if he gave him an address. He held back in time to commit nonsense: what did he care if the guy didn't remember him? It had happened a million times. Well, not really: people used to remember his features, his smile, his kindness, his lack of a social filter to express his feelings ... Even Ming Yi had shown some emotion when he saw him a second time: mainly squinting; but it was more than not seeing him.
After handing the bill to the client, Shi Huan approached the table of a regular couple and chatted with them for a few minutes, recommending them try the new recipe for veal that Tony had finished refining that week. When the young man turned to where Nicholas Long was, he saw that he had already left. Squeezing his lips he went to collect the payment.
Normally, most customers paid by card; but Nicholas Long seemed to be an old-fashioned man, Shi Huan reflected to himself as he counted the cash ... Wow! That was a lot of tip, he calculated with dilated eyes. He could even give Ban Yue a part ... His gaze fell on the tiny note at the end of the sheet. Just a few characters - very stylized, almost as if instead of a pen, Mr. Long had used a traditional brush.
"Like an open book."
Shi Huan half smiled, realizing that Nicholas Long had recognized him and that he had realized that he was disgusted because he didn't show it. While he was aware of this, the young man felt the heat rise up his neck to his cheeks.
He Xuan looked up to fix his eyes on the man standing by the window.
Dressed in a red suit and lustrous black shoes, San Lang wore his long hair in a ponytail on the back of his neck and his hands with thin fingers wore several silver rings. His eyes were closed, letting the long eyelashes rest on the high cheekbones. He could go through a model and more than one had thought so to meet him. His person adjusted to the elegant decoration of the penthouse he had occupied with Xian Le for almost five years.
"Are you going to say something, Hua Cheng?" He Xuan growled after a few minutes in silence.
San Lang opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows mockingly.
“What do you want me to say?”
"They went into my house and robbed me."
"Shi WuDu's ashes, not yours. It is ... interesting. Do you suspect someone?”
The Black Water Demon gave him an impatient look.
"Shi Huan doesn't remember anything. He's still as innocent as ... two years ago. He does not…”
"Even if A-Huan knew the truth, the most he would do would be to get away from you.”
If the sweet voice had not betrayed the identity of the newcomer, He Xuan would have recognized him for the passionate glow that illuminated the other demon's eyes.
Hua Cheng turned away from the wall he was leaning on and crossed the room to extend both hands to the other man.
If San Lang was the epitome of elegance, Xian Le was the perfect image of beauty without ornaments. His face was so harmonious that it caused instant admiration. His body, on the other hand, was delicate but firm: each gesture conveyed the security of the one who dominates his own body to the point of making the toughest gestures seem elegant. Best of all, Xian Le was not aware of his own presence and did nothing to highlight his appeal. In the middle of the luxurious floor, the former Tai Zi Yue Shen* wore a wide sweater, worn jeans on his thighs and white sneakers. He wore his hair cut at shoulder height and loose framing his features.
After more than a thousand years, He Xuan was still addressing him by his title.
Still with his hands in his partner's, Xian turned his face to look at the visitor.
"What nonsense you keep calling me that way, He Xuan," he sighed softly. “No one even remembers that Xian Le's country ever existed; even less that it had a Crown Prince.”
"I remember it," San Lang muttered, bending down to speak next to his ear.
Xian gave him a stunned smile as his cheeks stained deep pink.
"You don't count, San Lang. Now, returning to the Lord of the Wind ... Shi Huan ... I don't think that after so long you have finally understood what the character of QingXuan is like.”
"I know that Shi QingXuan loved his brother. In spite of everything “, the demon replied bitterly, standing up.
San Lang had moved to hug his boyfriend from behind and when He Xuan sat up, he instinctively tightened his arms around him. Xian raised an eyebrow and slapped hisr hand gently with his fingers.
"QingXuan will not seek revenge. Although he loved the Lord of Water, he also always had a sense of good and evil. In a way that his brother didn't have it, I'm afraid. Shi QingXuan would have accepted any punishment for him if it hadn't involved ...”
Xian Le kept silent, letting words float between them.
He Xuan knew immediately what he meant. He had given Shi QingXuan a choice between killing Shi WuDu and changing his destiny with one of the madmen he kept in his abode. Shi QingXuan had chosen the second option ... but Shi WuDu had not allowed it. The conclusion was that Shi WuDu had died at his hands. In front of QingXuan.
"What I mean is that if Shi Huan regained memories of his previous existence now, he wouldn't take steps to avenge his brother's fate. He ... would only get away from you.”
The Black Demon King remained silent for a few minutes, contemplating the couple in front of him.
"That only leaves me with one suspect less than having raided my abode," he said finally. “Who else…? Jiang Jun Zhe Jian**.”
"General Pei Ming?" Xian Le was taken aback. “Why would he do such a thing?”
"He was very close to Shi WuDu," said San Lang as if he were following the logic of He Xuan. “It is logical that at some point he felt the need to avenge what happened to his friend.”
"Stealing Shi WuDu's remains?" The crown prince frowned.
"Showing He Xuan that he is not invulnerable, that he can enter his abode and ... We have not heard from General Pei Ming for a long time."
"Do you think he waited more than a thousand years to scare He Xuan?" Xian Le rolled his eyes.
“Why not? Maybe it has taken him some time to gather the power and knowledge.”
Xian pouted at him; but he did not speak again while the two demons engaged in conjecture, accusing Pei Ming and Ling Wen of having devised the plan to steal Shi WuDu's remains from He Xuan's lair.
Almost two hours later, when He Xuan had left, San Lang went to sit on the couch next to his partner and leaned back to put his head in his lap.
"Ge ge is thoughtful," he said as he raised one hand to trace the eyebrows of the other with the tip of his forefinger.
"You know as well as I do that Pei Ming did not enter He Xuan's abode. That is not General Ming Guang's style.”
“No, it is not. Pei Ming would go straight ahead, forming uproar if he wanted to seek some retribution by now.”
"Then why did you let him believe it was he who was behind that ... theft?"
"Because the other option is ... worse for him."
Xian narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"Worse ... how?"
“There are rumors, ge ge; rumors that a new Supreme has emerged. A few hundred years ago.”
“Hundreds? Why have we not heard anything?”
“He has kept a low profile. He has remained hidden, without attracting attention. Perhaps he has chosen to accumulate more power or ...”
"Or he wanted to go unnoticed. For us.”
"For He Xuan."
Xian took a slow breath.
"If that were true, why show up now? Why…? Shi Huan” he understood suddenly. “Shi Huan is the first reincarnation of Shi QingXuan since that time. He was waiting for Shi Huan. But how can we be sure it is him?”
“Shuǐlóng nì tiān***. That is the name by which he’s known.”
"Of course," Xian Le blinked, half-smiling. “Certainly that he has done. Challenge fate. Again and again. By Shi QingXuan’s sake.”
"Ge ge, I think you admire Shi WuDu a little," said San Lang, raising an eyebrow.
The prince looked down and surprised the mouth of his partner tightly closed, as if he wanted to contain a grimace that began to insinuate itself at the corners. Smiling, he used a finger to stroke San Lang's lower lip.
"I think the affection he shows for his younger brother is admirable. I do not approve of anything he did; but Shi WuDu was not a bad Celestial Officer or a god too ... indifferent. And in a way, isn't it understandable that he wanted to protect Shi QingXuan at any cost?”
"It is," San Lang admitted before taking Xian Le's hand with his own and kissing the inside of the wrist, the palm and the tip of each finger. He waited to finish the ritual to add: "I'm afraid He Xuan will have a hard time when he comes for him."
“Maybe not. Maybe he is content to find his brother and check that he is doing well.”
San Lang pointed with a casual tone; but Xian pouted at him. Of course, Shi QingXuan - Shi Huan in this life - was mortal. Shi WuDu had not only gained new power; but he was a Supreme as everything seemed to indicate. Shi WuDu would not recover his brother more than for a few years and with certainty, he would not forget who caused this situation.
"You should warn He Xuan. Maybe we should talk to Shi Huan too.”
"Calm down, ge ge. Maybe we get ahead a little. Maybe Shuǐlóng nì tiān is not really Shi WuDu. Or maybe he is content to scare He Xuan a little. Also, if they fight a little, what’s the worst that could happen?”
"A tsunami?" suggested Xian Le. “A typhoon? A tsunami? A flood?”
San Lang raised an eyebrow, with an amused expression.
"Well, they happen sometimes. We'll make sure it doesn't get there”, he hastened to add when his boyfriend watched him with narrowed eyes. “But I don't think it's a good idea to scare Shi Huan for no reason.”
"Why should Shi Huan be scared for his brother's return?"
" ’Cause he’s been sleeping with the man who tore his head off?"
"Oh," Xian Le modulated, shocked.
Shi Huan looked down at the book and checked the reservations for that night for the third time. It was one of the busiest nights they had and Liao Xiuying had to go to the hospital with her sister because she was about to give birth. Mr. Chu had decided that it was Shi Huan who covered the reception that night.
It was ok. After two weeks of vacations to be able to devote himself to the exams, Shi Huan felt that he needed to adapt to the restaurant movement. In addition, he had had the last exam that morning so he was still a little stunned and full of information that was spinning in his head.
Ming Yi was still on his work trip. Surprisingly, he had called him the night before to wish him luck and tell him that it would take another week. He would probably go to visit Xian Le and San Lang.
Shi Huan did not understand how the gloomy and silent Ming Yi, who needed to share an apartment, was friends with someone as glamorous and rich as San Lang; but those were not issues that directly concerned him.
The arrival of half a dozen people caused the young man to shake his personal thoughts to concentrate on his work. He checked the reservation of the newcomers and when preparing to tell one of the waiters to accompany them to his table, he discovered that the last member of the group was Nicholas Long.
Inevitably, a smile pulled the young man's lips when his gaze met the older man's black eyes. Mr. Long, meanwhile, only raised an eyebrow before diverting his attention to the woman next to him.
Shi Huan experienced a prick in the stomach: the woman was European or American. With red and curly hair, she wore an elegant black dress that adhered to her shapes and high-heeled sandals that enhanced the legs that the opening on the side left in sight.
Shi Huan assessed the appearance of the foreign woman with the judgment of someone naturally inclined to beauty. She was a woman with whom he would have felt at ease; but that observation only made him wonder if Nicholas Long would be dating her. Not that he cared! He didn't have to care! He had barely seen the man about five times before his vacation. It is true that he had left generous tips that were already beginning to be commented among his companions and that on two occasions Nicholas Long wrote a short message at the bottom of the account, which caused Song Xia to frown and Ban Yue to jump as if watching a romantic comedy. On the other hand, if Nicholas Long was dating that woman, it must mean he was heterosexual: it was unlikely that a man over thirty would be bisexual, according to Shi Huan’s experience.
He had to stop elucidating about the sexuality of a man who was not interested when a new group of clients arrived. Suddenly, he noticed that Mr. Long put a hand on the lower part of the woman's back to guide her to the table of six waiting for them.
More than an hour had elapsed when Shi Huan distinguished the redhead's black dress from the corner of his eye. He smiled and said goodbye to the customers with bows, wishing them a good night and a soon return.
Nicholas Long stopped just in time to help his companion put on her coat and let her go out chatting with another of the women while he put on his own dark blue trench coat.
Shi Huan stared at the book, making sure not to look.
"There wasn't much sun, huh?"
“What?” the young man was baffled, raising his head so suddenly that his neck snapped, making him wince.
Mr. Long let the smile twist his mouth, drawing the dimple.
“Your vacations. They were in a place where there was not much sun. Or was it a romantic trip and you spent all your time inside?”
Shi Huan blushed, confused by the implication of his words.
“No what? No, there was no sun? No, it wasn't it a romantic trip?”
“Exams. I took a few days for the University exams.”
“Ah. You study.” Nicholas's dark eyes swept through him as if he were a piece to analyze. “Arts? Acting? ... Dance”, he concluded by himself.
"Dance and choreography," the young man nodded.
“It was expected.”
Shi Huan was tempted to ask why it was expected. Did he have a type of dancer? Or was he implying something else with that comment?
"Reserve me a table for two nights."
Shi Huan looked down at the book and looked for the page corresponding to Friday.
“Table for two?”
“For one. I want the usual table.”
"It will be, Mr. Long."
"You're still a waiter, aren't you?"
"I'm just covering Liao Xiuying. Her sister entered to the hospital to give birth and she ...”
"You talk too much. Has anyone told you so?”
Shi Huan gaped at him. Slowly, he managed to modulate:
"Ming ... Yi. He…”
He broke off, stunned. A chill ran down his spine and the hair bristled at the back of his neck. With an effort, he restrained the urge to rub his forearms: the temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees - which was totally unthinkable at that time of year.
The hall lights wavered, casting shadows on them. The young man turned his attention to the lamps, frowning.
"It's strange," he murmured. “This has never ...”
He became silent, staring at Nicholas Long's face. The shadows danced over the gallant factions, hardening them and accentuating the icy glow of the eyes like obsidian. Shi Huan had the feeling that he had seen that expression before, that face ... in a different world, in a different time.
The lights returned to normal.
Nicholas Long stood at the reception desk, with one hand in a pants pocket, pushing back the raincoat and jacket. His gaze slowly descended to the extended hand in his direction.
"Afraid of the dark, boy?"
Shi Huan blushed intensely and withdrew his hand.
“I'm sorry. Then, your usual table for Friday at eight fifteen.”
“That's fine. I hope you did well on the exams.”
But Nicholas Long had already turned on his heels and was heading for the door, ignoring his babble.
Shi Huan bit his lower lip, scolding himself inwardly for allowing the presence of that man to affect him so deeply.
* Tai Zi Yue Shen: Your Highness the Pleased God (From the novel)
** Jiang Jun Zhe Jian: The general who broke his sword; Pei Ming (from the novel)
*** Shuǐlóng nì tiān: Water dragon defying fate.
Shi Huan looked at the picture on the screen of his laptop.
Definitely, the smile suited that man very well: it softened his features and he had a beautiful denture.
After the image in which he appeared in a suit and smiling at someone that the photographer did not consider important, followed photographs of Nicholas Long in more casual clothes, on his yacht on a summer afternoon, playing polo in England ... However, after fifteen minutes of searching, Shi Huan had only managed to collect about twenty images - including unofficial ones - and two articles about the man in question. They didn't say much and there were inconsistencies between them: one said he was born in 1986, the other in 1983; one said in London, the other in Beijing or Shanghai. Nor did they agree on the nationalities of their parents or where he studied. He was recognized as a rich man, owner of several properties, including a Plastic Clinic in Europe. It was also mentioned that he had participation in numerous businesses, almost all linked to commerce and the shipping industry; but it was as if Nicholas Long was a mystery.
After five more minutes, Shi Huan found a small piece of news from a local newspaper that stated that 'tycoon Nicholas Long, with connections in the maritime and leisure industry, had shown interest in building his new house in Hong Kong, although he had not yet defined what the exact location of this would be’.
The young man bit his lower lip thoughtfully. If Nicholas Long was looking for a house, maybe he should introduce him to Ming Yi. After all, he was a real estate agent. For a moment, Shi Huan imagined Ming Yi and Nicholas Long together, chatting.
A low groan left his lips and he had to close his eyes to rub them with his fingers. A stab of pain had just pierced his head, like a sting.
He dismissed the idea. It would be much better if Ming Yi and Nicholas Long never met. It was already quite evident that Mr. Long had a strange influence on Shi Huan and also put him next to his boyfriend.
It was not as if Nicholas Long had shown any special interest in him, he told himself; but the truth was ... he was impressed. Something in that man appealed to him... called him.
A buzz made him jump into the seat and snorting impatiently, he searched for his cell phone.
He stared at the screen, baffled. It was not normal for Ming Yi to call him when he was traveling, and he had already done it two nights ago!
"Hello," he said when he picked up. “Is it something wrong?”
Always so expressive, Shi Huan considered mentally.
“All good. I think I nailed it in the exam and I'm done. Yesterday I returned to work. It was a quiet night. I had to cover the reception and I hope it is the same today because Liao Xiuying is taking care of her sister. The girl is going to have twins. If she didn't have them already!” He laughed cheerfully. “What about you? Did you see Xian-gege? And San Lang? How are they? Aren't they coming this summer? What are they doing? Do you have a lot of work yet? You come back next Friday, right?”
Silence followed his flood of questions. Shi Huan pouted, imagining the face of his roommate and ‘almost’ boyfriend.
"Xian Le and San Lang are fine. They plan to go there in a month, they told me. Yes, I'll be back next Friday and ... Take off that day: we're going out for dinner. I miss you.”
“What?!” Shi Huan shrieked; but on the other side only the hanging tone responded.
Seriously? Ming Yi had said he missed him? Had he said it? He had said it!
Shi Huan laughed like a fool, feeling the heat flutter in his stomach. Turning in place, his gaze fell on the photo that was still occupying the laptop screen and his joy dimmed a bit.
At another time, he would have liked to know that man better, he admitted as he approached to close the internet tab. When he moved the pointer, he clicked on a link and a new page opened before him. He frowned, reading through the article quickly.
He stepped back, pale and in a hurry, closed the Internet and closed the laptop too, as if there was no other way to get away from what he read.
While looking at the closed and flat artifact, he kept repeating the words in his head: triads, connections, suspicions, prostitution, human trafficking ... and in the midst of all that, Nicholas Long’s name.
Shi Huan stepped on the tips of his feet to watch the living room through the round window in the kitchen door. With his mouth clenched in a pout, the young man kept his eyes on Song Xia, who led Nicholas Long to his usual table.
The businessman wore Prussian blue and his clothes had a slightly military cut, with a gold trim on the cuffs and buttons of the same metallic tone. He had cut his hair that same day judging by how recent the cut looked all over the bottom and the way dark hair was raised high - almost too youthful for his serious man appearance. The damp glow of the hair only contributed to accentuate the look of his dark eyes, which - at the moment he sat down – he moved slowly around the room, as if looking for something.
Shi Huan turned away from the door at full speed and turned on the spot. He discovered the most recent restaurant employee a few steps away.
The young man was tall and thin. The green qipao of the Sacred Lotus drew an athletic and elegant body; nevertheless, his serious and too pale face caused in Shi Huan the sensation of being watching a vampire of European films. Black and very straight hair, collected in a bun at the top of the head, contributed to that image.
"Yin Yu!" Shi Huan called going to the other young man.
"Mhm?" Asked the other, raising his head.
“Will you do me a favor? Would you attend table 17 for me?”
Yin Yu blinked slowly while tilting his head on one shoulder. He had barely been in the restaurant for a month; but he was very hardworking and had a pretty good memory. For that reason, Shi Huan was not surprised when the other waiter asked him calmly:
"Isn't that the table Mr. Long always occupies?"
“Uh… yes. It's -Mr. Long is here tonight and the other day I- Well, I made a clumsiness when I was covering Liao Xiuying's post and ... and I'm ashamed to see him so soon. Please, Yin-gege! Mr. Long leaves very good tips!” He reminded him enthusiastically.
Yin Yu knitted the thin eyebrows, as if he were considering each of his words. Finally, he shrugged and grabbed a tray to go to the cellar.
"Mr. Long leaves you good tips, Shi Huan," he said, causing the other to blush. “Now tell me, what wine does that man prefer?”
Shi Huan managed to overcome enough to babble that Mr. Long preferred a dry huangjiu - the older, the better.
The restaurant was closed and Shi Huan took his time while changing clothes, leaving the uniform carefully folded in his locker. While stretching the shirt with an advertisement of Thor Dark World, the young man told himself that he had behaved in a childlike way. Ever since he read that stupid article - which on the other hand he couldn't find again - he hadn't stopped thinking about Nicholas Long in fear. A part of him had even begun to blame him for the light malfunctioning nights ago: as if the man had the power to control the electric fluid, for heavens’ sake! With a grimace, he closed the locker and put on the sweater, pulling out his hair to drop it down his back, still wet. Turning to leave, he met Yin Yu.
"Hey," he said, confused.
The other young man remained motionless for a few seconds. He had also switched to his street clothes, wearing a simple combination of black shirt and jeans. Shi Huan thought about Ming Yi. They even seemed to be the same age.
"Here," said Yin Yu, handing him some bills.
“What is that?”
"Half of Mr. Long's tip. After all, he is your client.”
“No no no! You don't have to do that, Yin Yu. You attended him and earned that tip. I don't ... I don't want ...”
He broke off when he perceived that the other raised an eyebrow. Yin Yu watched him for a moment and without insisting, put the money in the jean's front pocket.
"He'll be back on Tuesday. You may want to think about it before continuing to avoid him. He is a generous man.”
"He has to be, after all," Shi Huan snorted. “It’s the least he can do.”
Yin Yu raised both eyebrows and shrugged.
"You know what you do, young master Shi."
Shi Huan opened his mouth to protest; but he fell silent when he realized what he called him. He had heard some colleagues comment that Yin Yu spoke in a peculiar way; but he had not testified firsthand so far: and it was true! Yin Yu, who didn't seem to be over 30, spoke like one of those masters out of wuxia stories!
Young master Shi. The words resonated in a strange way in Shi Huan's ears, as if it were not the first time he had heard them, as if someone else had called him that way before, which if it was right to be called that way.
By the time he managed to come back to his senses, Shi Huan found himself alone in the dressing room. Hurriedly, he turned off the light and went out to the back of the restaurant.
He had taken a few steps on the sidewalk when his heart stopped to immediately hammer against his ribs. He blinked several times to convince himself that he was seeing correctly. Moistening his lips with the tip of his tongue, he crossed the street.
Nicholas Long had seen him since leaving the building, of course; but he only got out of the car when the young man crossed to go straight to him. It was evident that both preferred not to pretend.
"Hi," Shi Huan greeted as he reached the man.
Mr. Long kept his hands in his pants pockets and Shi Huan noticed that his outfit was more casual than usual: to begin with, he didn't wear a tie and wore his white shirt open halfway to his chest, showing a fine chain of which hung a golden medallion.
"Are you all right, boy?" he asked without preamble.
Shi Huan studied him for a moment. He was really an attractive man. More than his physical appearance, there was an air of ... power, of security around him. For a thousandth of a second, Shi Huan felt the urge to hang on his neck and let Nicholas Long hug him as the world cracked around them.
With a shake of his head, he pushed away the stupid thoughts. He knew he was half distracted; but so far he had no idea of being a stupid romantic. And if he was going to be one, he better was it with Ming Yi, who after all was his ... something.
"I have a relationship," he said suddenly. “Or something like that. We have been roommates for two years and ... we are friends. Good friends. And now we have -we have a relationship. I mean, I think I've been waiting all my life for someone like him, for being more than friends with someone like him.” He looked up at Nicholas Long's blank face. “I'm not sure I want to spoil it. Not for someone so ... complicated. And you -you are complicated, Mr. Long. And you are above my league. My workmates are starting to talk: about tips, about ... notes, looks ... and I don't say you look at me in any way!” He hastened to clarify. “I say they think you do. And that’s also dangerous because I ... because I could believe it. That you look at me in some special way, I mean. I don't need that complication in my life. I don't need attention from someone like... like you.”
He swayed at the tips of his feet, doubting if he should keep talking.
"You didn't need to hide behind someone else to make that decision, boy."
Shi Huan blinked several times. Well, it really hadn't been a smart tactic to change with Yin Yu. And it had been quite evident, even for Yin Yu.
"I wasn't ..."
"And I didn't have the mind to seduce you if that's what you thought I was doing," he sneered coldly.
Now Shi Huan felt all his blood pound on his cheeks.
"But if I have caused you so much discomfort, I apologize. It will not happen again. Have a good night, kid.”
Shi Huan watched him turn and open the car door.
"You're going to come back to the restaurant, right?" he screamed, worried.
Nicholas Long stopped, looking over the door of the metallic blue sports Jaguar.
"If I feel like it."
“Ah. Just ... I just say it for -for the restaurant, you know? It's a good place and you are a good customer and ... and I ... I don't want to ...”
"Stop babble, brat," the man hissed. “You said what you had to say: now assume the consequences. And cover yourself before you catch a cold.”
He got into the car and Shi Huan stepped back when he got out at such a speed that the air disheveled the boy.
Standing in the middle of the deserted street, Shi Huan kept his eyes on the lights that were moving away.
I didn't have the mind to seduce you
For some ‘stupid’ reason, those were the words that stayed with Shi Huan, sinking his mind.
For those who don't know me, I am an elephant in glassware on the Internet, hence I can not put an f ... photo in the chapter. Therefore, this is the image that Shi Huan is looking at the beginning of the chapter:
Yin Yu entered the apartment and took off his shoes before continuing on to the kitchen. He left the bags on the bar and rolled up his shirt to start distributing the purchases in bags and properly labeled containers that he placed in the fridge and on the shelves. When he kept the last container, arms circled his waist from behind and a head rested heavily on his back.
"Shixiong is late today," a sleepy voice whispered.
Yin Yu moistened his lower lip. He put a hand on the arms that squeezed too hard and said:
“It's the time the restaurant normally closes.”
"No, it isn't," the other denied stubbornly, pressing his face against his shirt, which made his voice sound dull. “Shixiong took thirty-seven minutes and sixteen seconds longer than yesterday.”
If it came from any other, Yin Yu would have been surprised at that accuracy; but in the case of Qian Yi Zhen, he could only sigh, defeated.
"I went shopping for the weekend and it took me a while to find a taxi. I'm sorry I made you wait.”
The arms around him tightened tighter, causing him pain.
"I thought Shixiong had left me. Again.”
Yin Yu closed his eyes and with an effort, he loosened the hug enough to turn around. Grasping the other's face, he buried his hands in curly hair and forced him to raise his head to look at him.
"I'm not going anywhere, Shidi."
The youngest's dark eyes watched him with a mixture of fear and pain that transformed into determination.
"Not without me," he declared.
"Not without you," Yin Yu nodded and studying him with a frown, asked, "Did you take a shower? Did you eat what I left you?”
Qian Yi Zhen nodded enthusiastically.
"Shixiong has to bathe and rest. I will take care of shixiong tonight.”
Yin Yu almost smiled, guessing what the expected care would be.
Shi Huan let out a loud sigh and threw the cell phone aside. He had started trying to connect with Xian Le or with Ming Yi - an impossible mission with the latter - and after chatting about ten minutes with his friend, he had ended up looking for the article once again to read about Nicholas Long's possible connections with the mafia.
Of course, he didn't find anything this time either.
He watched the cell phone. Despite having arrived home almost two hours ago, he was unable to fall asleep. It had been silly to behave that way, rejecting a proposal that he hadn't received ... that he probably wasn't going to receive. He had seen Mr. Long with that red-haired woman. He had no reason to think that he had any interest ... sexual interest in him and yet sometimes he had felt ...
Silly stuff! He covered his face with a pillow, shouting against it. How had he been bigheaded enough to reject a man who didn't woo him? What would Nicholas Long think of him now? And with certainty he would not return to the restaurant: Shi Huan would have no chance to recover face before him.
Xian Le had asked him if something was wrong and Shi Huan had said he was tired of exams and work. Naturally, he wasn't going to mention the restaurant customer with whom he had just made the biggest ridiculous of his life. It wouldn't be right: after all, although Xian Le was his best friend, he was also Ming Yi's best friend's boyfriend.
He lowered the pillow, hugging it against his chest. He should have waited. Wait for Nicholas to take the first step. Wait for him to say something, to try to get close, to kiss him ...
“No!” He shouted, jumping out of bed. “No kisses, Shi Huan. No kisses or waiting or … or… or… or Nicholas Long! You don't want to have anything to do with a man who is involved with the mafia. A man who plays with others’ lives, who enriches himself at the expense of ... of ... of the misfortune of others. I don't need -I don't want the attention of someone like that. I didn't even have his attention, moron!” He reconvened, slapping himself gently.
A distant thunder spun him in place to fix his attention on the window. He was taken aback, contemplating the dark sky. They hadn't said anything in the news of a storm, he reminded himself as he approached the window.
Normally, he didn't like being alone when there was a storm. He had terrible memories: it was a night like this when his parents did not return home - so many years ago. Although Xian Le had found him only two years later at the orphanage and had made sure that his life improved a lot, Shi Huan had not lost his fear and suspicion in stormy nights.
The young man watched the sky. The storm was advancing from the sea and would probably weaken before reaching the city; but right now it was threatening even in the distance.
Lightning illuminated the dark clouds, causing Shi Huan to hug his torso, wishing that Ming Yi had already returned home.
Yin Yu turned his face to gaze at the sleeping young man next to him. Not even the accumulated millennia of divinity had changed this aspect of Qian Yi Zhen. Not even while he was a god with numerous worshipers did he stop sleeping like a blessed whenever he felt like it.
A pout curved Yin Yu's mouth when he had to move his partner's heavy arm to get out of bed. He had to be careful: if Qian Yi Zhen woke up it would be impossible for him to let him escape. When he finally managed to sit on the edge of the bed, he raised an eyebrow when he saw the mess of semen and dry oil on his belly and pelvis.
Qian Yi Zhen had been especially anxious tonight, as if he had really feared that Yin Yu had abandoned him. As soon as the older left the bathroom, Qian Yi Zhen had grabbed him by one hand to guide him to the bed and made him lie on his back, totally naked, to kiss, lick and bite his lips, his neck, his chest, his belly, his thighs ... It was always a surprise the ability with which Qian Yi Zhen took his sex and adored it with his mouth, devouring it and caressing it with a need in which tenderness and rudeness were mixed. When Yin Yu was completely hard, the youngest stepped aside to look for the bottle of oil on the night table.
"Can you help me, shixiong?"
Yin Yu had heard that question, coming from that same mouth, too many times; but only in recent years had it been associated with such a ... intimate situation. Without hesitation, Yin Yu sat up and smeared his fingers with a generous portion of oil before putting his hand between Qian Yi Zhen's thighs. They didn't waste much time in the preparations: as soon as three fingers slid inside, the youngest grabbed Yin Yu's wrist with one hand and rested the other on his shoulder to push him back to lie on his back. Without wasting any more time, he straddled Yin Yu's hips and descended until the swollen sex of the elder was completely inside him.
Whatever his feelings were in the past towards his former friend and fellow student, now Yin Yu could not help but recognize that Qian Yi Zhen going up and down in his cock, curly hair loose on shoulders and back, eyes narrowed, ajar mouth letting out groans of pleasure and pain ... it was a vision worthy of burning in his memory.
It was always a delicious agony the escalation to ecstasy, the struggle to contain the outbreak until the other surrendered. Tonight, however, Qian Yi Zhen did not want to compete: he surrendered at a rampant pace, groaning his lover's name, letting go in a few strokes, spilling into Yin Yu's abdomen and chest. The older's orgasm was swift, hurried by the pressure of the walls of the other's internal canal around his cock. Qian Yi Zhen collapsed on Yin Yu's chest and without taking care of the fluids scattered on his skins, he curled up like a puppy while yawning.
Yin Yu had not slept. After a while, Qian Yi Zhen had rolled to his side to sleep in a fetal position. Yin Yu had thought to take advantage of that moment to leave the bed; but the youngest had turned around and held him under his arm for more than an hour.
Finally, Yin Yu was in the bathroom, cleaning himself, when a voice rang out in his head, causing him to startle.
Cheng Zhu*, greeted mentally, containing the urge to bow.
Xia Xian Yue Shi**, I've been waiting for you to communicate.
I've been a little ... busy, Cheng Zhu. I apologize for my delay.
Yin Yu hesitated, considering if there really was a problem.
You can tell His Royal Highness that young master Shi is well. He has been successful in his exams and has returned to work without difficulties.
Silence followed on both sides. Finally, Yin Yu could not contain himself.
Cheng Zhu? There is something. I don't know if it's a problem.
What is it?
A client. I think the young master feels uncomfortable in his presence.
Uncomfortable? Has he had problems with him?
N-no. On the contrary, I think ... I think they like each other too much. Mutually.
I get it. Keep an eye on that client and inform me of any situation with Shi Huan.
Yin Yu bowed before remembering that they had been using the spiritual communication web. Anyway, when he wanted to rectify, he only found the void on the other side. With a sigh, he opened the bathroom door and frowned when he discovered Qian Yi Zhen sitting on the bed with a disoriented expression.
"You should still be sleeping," he said, approaching.
"Shixiong wasn't here ..."
Yin Yu held back the gesture of impatience: would Qian Yi Zhen ever stop chasing him like a puppy?
Lightning illuminated the coast. With arms crossed over his chest, the man kept his eyes fixed on the city lights, as if he could cross the distance and catch a glimpse of the one light he was looking for. The wind swirled around him and the rain beat against the earth; but he seemed to be in a different place, as if he were not really there. In the midst of the storm that was stirring the sea behind him, the man's clothes - a night blue with silver embroidery - and long hair like ink fluttered as if he were submerged in the water. His attire belonged to previous centuries, at an almost forgotten age, and yet it seemed natural in him, giving him the appearance of one of those legendary immortals who inhabited Chinese folklore.
The man put his hand to his throat - surrounded by a blackened scar - and slipped his fingers along the gold chain until he held the medallion in the palm of his hand.
He did not turn to the voice that called him. The young man, dressed in modern clothes, seemed to resist the ravages of the storm quite strongly.
"Master, I know where the Black Waters Demon is," the young man insisted, raising his voice above the clamor of thunder.
Finally the man showed signs of listening to him. Averting his eyes, he turned around to observe his young acolyte.
"Me too, young Gu Zhi," he declared hoarsely, probably caused by the terrible scar that cut his throat.
Gu Zhi frowned slightly; but then he nodded.
"Do you want me to go for him now?"
“No. Not yet. I don't want xiao-Xuan to panic. He still doesn't know that I'm here.”
The young man seemed to consider his words to finally ask.
"What about the storm, master? Won't the storm alert young master Shi?”
The man smiled, showing the fangs in an almost fierce grimace.
"My didi doesn't remember how I like to do things. But he will remember, Gu Zhi; he will remember very soon.”
Above them, thunder rumbled with more force and lightning descended, splitting the night, until it touched earth.
Gu Zhi did not flinch, holding still while the man in blue clothes grew and distorted into a night blue dragon that opened its jaws and roared to the heavens, defying them.
* Cheng Zhu: master of the city (from the novel)
** Xia Xian Yue Shi: Sent to the waning quarter of the moon (from the novel)
Shi Huan looked at the reservation book page, his mouth pursed in a pout. He slid his finger along the red line that crossed out an appointment for Tuesday at 8 and 15. With a feeling, he turned several pages to arrive on Friday and check that there was also a canceled reservation for the same time that day. And also in Nicholas Long’s name. He bit the inside of his cheek, cursing in his mind.
Fucking idiot! He said he was going back to the restaurant. Mr. Chu would kill him if he knew that Shi Huan had been the cause of losing a good client. And why for? For something he had read on the Internet! Didn't he know at that point that he couldn't give credit to what he read on the Internet? Well, looking at it from a certain angle, it seems that Mr. Long's only interest in coming to Sacred Lotus was to see Shi Huan, since he had given up once he told him ...
"Don't be an asshole, Shi Huan," he recriminated himself. “The guy probably doesn't want to see your stupid face again in the rest of his life.”
"Speaking to yourself, Huan-gege?"
Shi Huan looked up at Ban Yue's face. The girl was smiling at him, watching him with her huge dark eyes.
Ban Yue was about three years younger than him and was also one of Xian Le's boys, as they called each other. Ban Yue had also been orphaned as a child and had gone to one of the many shelters visited by the young social worker. Xian Le used to specialize in cases of children who were not adopted, whether due to behavioral problems or their age. Ban Yue, like Shi Huan, had the misfortune of being orphaned too late. It was ironic, but most couples or single women seeking to adopt preferred babies: having more than five years involved the high risk of staying in shelters until they came of age.
When Ban Yue turned 18 he left the center where she lived until then to start working on her own. Xian Le had sent her directly to Shi Huan for the boy to help her get her bearings and keep an eye on her. By that date, one of the employees of the Sacred Lotus had left his post to marry and return to the continent with his family. Shi Huan convinced Mr. Chu to hire the girl in his place and the young man was sure that the owner would occasionally regret it; however, it was impossible to deny Ban Yue's willingness to work hard. The girl was strong, determined and stoically enduring any criticism, just trying to improve. It was not her fault that her hands were of butter or that she was not able to boil water without burning the cauldron.
Ban Yue shared an apartment with Song Xia and two other girls, and Shi Huan had heard her talk about a boyfriend who lived on the continent, but so far he had not seen the boyfriend in question. However, they were quite close and Shi Huan considered Ban Yue a younger sister. Well, in a way they were both adopted sons of Xian Le.
"I have many interesting things to tell me," the young man shrugged. “Did you finish cleaning?”
“Mhn. Did you finish reviewing the reservation book?” She stretched her neck a little and tilted her head to read the page on which the book was open.” It seems that Mr. Long canceled his dinner this week. Any idea why he did it?”
“ ’Cos it’s what the rich do? Change their mind all the time, ”Shi Huan said, closing the page. “I wanted to ask you: could you cover me on Friday?”
Ban Yue opened her eyes more and a smile parted her mouth, excited.
"Oh, that's why he canceled the reservations."
“Who? What…? What are you thinking, Ban Yue?” demanded the young man, reddening in spite of himself.
"You're going out with him, right? Everyone said he wouldn't invite you before two months; but Xia-jie and I were sure that ...”
"Ming Yi returns from his trip." He interrupted her in a hurry, feeling that his head was going to explode.
The young woman remained with her mouth open mid-sentence to close it slowly.
"Ah, Ming-xiong is back," she finally said disappointedly. “Great. Are you two going to watch movies on TV?”
"We're going out for dinner. He invited me to dinner.”
“Well.” Ban Yue was not impressed. “It took him a lifetime.”
"It hasn't been that long either ..." Shi Huan protested.
“Seriously?” The girl raised her eyebrows. “It seemed like an eternity to me. But it's you who goes out with him. I mean, who's going out with him because so far you've just ... rolled on the bed.”
"Can you take care of my tables on Friday?" He asked impatiently. “Yes or no?”
Ban Yue pouted; but finally she nodded without much enthusiasm.
"After all, the handsome and dangerous guy won't be there." She shrugged.
The comment ignited all kinds of alerts on Shi Huan. Dangerous? Did Ban Yue know anything? He watched her with interest.
"Why do you say that Nicholas ... that Mr. Long is dangerous?" He inquired cautiously. “Have you heard something?”
Ban Yue blinked several times, keeping her face blank.
“Heard?” she repeated. “What could I have heard? Have you heard anything?”
"You said he was dangerous," Shi Huan insisted suspiciously.
The girl pouted, curving her mouth down and looked away in the direction of the door.
"Customers are starting to arrive," she announced. “We better go inside before Jiejie starts to bellow.”
Shi Huan left the table and followed her into the restaurant.
They had almost arrived at the kitchen door when Ban Yue emitted a sound as if humming and suddenly said:
"It's scary, right? Let someone so important notice one. Like someone with ... power.”
Shi Huan almost tripped on his own feet.
"I guess ..."
"You fear that if you stay too close, his power can crush you, destroy you ... crumble you until there's nothing left of you."
"A-Yue ... I don't know what you're talking about," said the young man, raising an eyebrow.
"But it doesn't have to be that way, Huan-gege," she continued, turning in place to grab him by the arm and force him to stop. “Sometimes, powerful people know how to take care of others, they know how far they can use that power, how far they can squeeze us without suffocating us. You have to have more confidence, Shi Huan. You have to trust your instincts more.”
"Are you trying to tell me something? Because I warn you that I am not understanding anything, Ban Yue.”
The girl watched him with concentrated expression for a few minutes. Finally, she shrugged and released his arm before turning to continue walking.
“You will understand. Earlier than later. Then ... that swallowing demon will finally take you on a date.”
"We're just going to have dinner. And, hey, Ming Yi doesn't eat so much.”
“Right. I would have preferred the other demon. The one who is rich, I mean. But it is you who will have to pay half of the bill.”
"Don't be a party popper, mei mei."
"The lord dragon* would have taken you to a huge place."
"Nicholas Long isn't interested in me like that, little girl."
On Friday night Shi Huan kept remembering her friend's nonsense. While they waited outside the restaurant chosen by Ming Yi to celebrate his return, the young watched the facade. It was a fairly recognized place and a little more expensive than Sacred Lotus. Shi Huan wondered if he really would have to pay half of the bill. It wasn't that he cared, really! As Ban Yue said, it was the first time he had dated Ming Yi. They had had lunch together before and even went to the movies; but it was generally more a matter of coincidence than of having agreed.
Shi Huan had doubts about the relationship between them. He thought he knew Ming Yi ... Well, he knew him enough to know the spicy spot he preferred in his food, his favorite color, the position he slept in, the films he liked to watch, what he would buy for his birthday ... but there were many aspects that he ignored. For example, he did not know if Ming Yi was equally attentive and affectionate with all his lovers or only with him, if he liked to have sex in the morning because he always woke up alone in his bed after the nights together, if he liked boys and girls equally or was leaning more towards one gender ... He didn't know if Ming Yi felt anything more than sexual attraction to him. Or if this dinner was a step in a different direction in the relationship between them.
Finally, Ming Yi took him by the elbow and pulled him toward the double-leaf door.
It didn't seem to be a busy night despite everything and Shi Huan thanked his instinct for choosing a light pink jacket and pants suit. Under the jacket, the young man wore a white turtleneck sweater and wore his hair in the back of his head.
Ming Yi wore his usual black, a little more elegant than normal; but still with a sporty style that accentuated his pop idol appeal: Shi Huan decided he liked it while sitting at the table.
"For once, it feels good to be served the table," Shi Huan joked, raising an eyebrow.
"I guessed it," Ming Yi commented dryly, as he opened the menu.
Shi Huan pouted. This was supposed to be a date; but Ming Yi was being as communicative as ever. They hadn't even talked about the trip. With a sigh, Shi Huan did the only thing he could in this situation: he carried the full weight of the conversation, speaking for both of them.
“... and Ban Yue said we could organize a party for Liao's sister ...
They were on desserts when a movement to the left of Shi Huan distracted him mid-sentence. With his mouth ajar and his eyes fixed, he followed the couple who went to the far corner of the room.
On this occasion, Nicholas Long's companion was a tall Chinese woman with an elegant figure. They both wore black and there was something in the way they behaved that made a close relationship supposed.
Shi Huan felt a weight squeeze his stomach: it was the second time he saw Nicholas Long in female company. That left very little doubt about his sexuality, right? He remembered again how he hinted that the man was trying to seduce him. Seduce him, for God's sake! The man wasn't even interested in him like that!
With an effort, he returned his attention to his dessert to meet Ming Yi's scrutinizing gaze. He smiled carelessly.
“Any problem?” Asked the other, watching him.
"N-o," he shrugged. “So, did you go to visit Xian Le and his magazine’s boyfriend? Don’t be jealous; but San Lang really is awesome.”
"I'm not jealous," Ming Yi replied. “No of ... San Lang.”
“No? Whose then?”
Ming Yi wiped his mouth with his napkin before looking at him seriously.
"Should I be jealous?"
Shi Huan felt the heat on his cheeks. Impulsively, he looked away at the table occupied by Nicholas Long and the woman ... The woman rose at that moment and crossed the room towards the dressing table.
"I need to go to the bathroom," the young man announced and before Ming Yi could respond, he stood up.
He crossed the meters to the businessman's table with a quick step. Only when he found a few steps did he realize the stupidity he was committing. He stopped in his tracks and began to back away when Nicholas Long looked up.
The man's dark eyes swept the young man without showing surprise at his presence there. Slowly, Mr. Long looked away from Shi Huan and took the glass of red wine for a sip.
Shi Huan licked his lips and finished covering the distance to the table.
"Good evening, Mr. Long," he greeted with a bow. “I hope you are enjoying your dinner. I was surprised that you canceled your reservation on Tuesday.” He bit the corner of his mouth and cast a watchful eye in the direction of the toilet. “And today. Have we done anything in the Sacred Lotus to dislike you, Mr. Long?”
Finally Nicholas Long looked up from his glass and fixed his gaze on the young man.
"Your boyfriend could bother if he sees you here." It was all he said.
Shi Huan clenched his fists against his thighs.
"Go back to the restaurant, sir. Don't take into account my ... disrespect. I will arrange for another employee to attend to you if that is your wish. But return to the restaurant. You are ... you are a good customer and we don't want to lose you.”
"You care about that place a lot," said Nicholas Long, keeping his eyes on him.
The young man nodded vigorously.
"Mr. Chu is a kind and considerate employer. And employees are good friends. They are ... they are like my family.” He looked up and looked at the older man's face. “Can I expect you to reconsider your decision, sir?”
Nicholas let out a slight snort that sound like a short laugh.
"It's incredible," he muttered under his breath.
Shi Huan blinked, puzzled by the show of humor; however, taking it as a good sign, he smiled enthusiastically and bowed deeper. Upon standing up, he announced:
"I hope to see you at our restaurant next Tuesday, Mr. Long."
He did not wait for his answer. He turned around and returned to his table just in time so that Mr. Long's companion did not find him.
Ming Yi looked up when Shi Huan sat down again and enthusiastically attacked his dessert.
"Are you going to want another ration?" He inquired, frowning slightly.
"Mhm ... no," Shi Huan replied with his mouth full. “Can we go to the movies when we go out?”
"Isn't it a bit late?"
The youngest shrugged.
"We never went out. We can go to the movies and then walk around for a while, have an ice cream ... I don't know. Do the things that people do on a date.”
Ming Yi watched him a little more. Shi Huan was not ashamed: he kept smiling and eating dessert while stirring in the seat as if swinging his feet like an euphoric child.
"Whatever," the other nodded at last.
The woman took her seat and gestured to the waiter. She waited for him to fill her cup and leave to fix her gaze on Nicholas Long's face.
"Well, that's something I haven't seen in a long time. Your smile, Shui Heng Tian** “, clarified when he raised an eyebrow.
"I don't use that name anymore, Ling Wen."
The former Master of the Palace of Literature pressed her red lips and leaned back in her seat.
"It was him, wasn't he? I couldn't see him well, but I would swear that boy was the Windmaster.”
"He isn't," the man replied dryly and emptied his glass wtih one gulp.
“No? Well, he keeps a great resemblance. He even has that family air with ...”
" QingXuan is dead. Because of He Shui Chen Zhou.”
Ling Wen brought the glass to her lips, ignoring the somber tone of her companion.
"I would say your brother is very much alive. And enjoying the company of his ... supposed killer.”
The man clenched his fist on the table. The black in his eyes spilled, covering everything, while a red spiral took the place of the pupil.
"I'm going to destroy him. I'm going to make him pay for the suffering that caused QingXuan.”
“Control yourself, Shi WuDu”, she suggested, in a calm tone. “Do not make a show. Not even Crimson Rain does these days. Have you thought about how it might affect your brother to lose ... his friend once again? They seem really united.”
Shi WuDu took a deep breath, closing his eyes. Around him, the air seemed to stir, causing the diners at the nearby tables to shudder. After a moment, he reopened his eyes, already back to normal. With a signal, he called the waiter and asked to fill his glass. When the employee walked away, he said, in a softly hoarse voice:
“I'll be there. For him. As it always should have been.”
Ling Wen watched him a few seconds before nodding, accepting his words.
"Then ... Shuǐlóng nì tiān, huh? I like it. It has ... personality. Who name you that?”
The woman hid the cough that drowned her, hurrying to leave the cup on the table to cover her mouth with the napkin.
"For heaven's sake, Shi WuDu!" she muttered after a few seconds. “How long have you been here without us knowing?”
The man only raised an eyebrow, sarcastic.
* Long, Nicholas's last name, means ‘dragon’ in Chinese and at the same time Ban Yue calls him ‘lord dragon’ because we all know what.
Shui Heng Tian: Water through the skies. Former title of Shi WuDu in Heavens.
He Shui Chen Zhou: Ships sinking in black waters. Name by which He Xuan is known.
Han Gaodi: Emperor Gao of Han, name by which Liu Bang is known, first Emperor of the Han Dynasty (reign 202 BC - 195 BC)
"Late again, Shi Huan," Song Xia pointed out when the young man entered the restaurant almost on the run.
"I know," Shi Huan replied as he gave her a quick smile before running to the dressing room.
"Huan-gege!" Called Ban Yue.
“Wait a moment!”
Shi Huan entered the bathroom and closed the door. Once alone, he turned in front of the mirror and looked at his image. The smile left his lips and an expression of discouragement descended on his graceful features.
Leaning forward, he leaned his full weight in the sink, letting out the air with a deep sigh.
It was not his nature to be intimidated. It was not part of his character to give up before any obstacle. He had lost his parents, he had been going from one welfare center to another until Xian Le found him sitting outside the municipal theater one night, he had come to Hong Kong to study without knowing anyone, without having a safe roof ... He was not the kind of person who succumbed to difficulties, who let himself sink. He had learned from too early to face life and his blows with a smile, with hope, with the certainty that everything would improve ... However, right now, he did not feel strong enough to find optimism within himself.
While the student advisor talked with him and his two companions, Shi Huan kept showing his calm positive expression. Even when the others turned pale - Fu Liling bursting into sobs like a little girl - he remained calm and attentive. Zhong-QianBei had been more concerned with Shi Huan than the other two fellows. Ji Hui and Fu Liling had a family to go to; but Shi Huan was alone, with no more support than that of a social worker on the continent.
A budget cut. In more than twenty years there had been no budget cut in the Academy, the scholarships had existed for almost the same time as the school and now they were going to make budget cuts!
A knock on the bathroom door pulled Shi Huan from his sinking.
"Huan-gege?" Called the voice of Ban Yue. “Customers are already arriving.”
“I'm coming”, he nodded as he took a breath to fill his lungs.
"Table 17, gege."
Shi Huan looked up from the plate Tony had just put in front of him and watched the exultant Ban Yue.
The girl was smiling like a kid who has done a mischief. With hands behind her body, she swayed on her heels, waiting for Shi Huan's reaction.
“What?” Asked the young man, puzzled.
Ban Yue stopped smiling and curved her mouth in a pout.
"Table 17. Your Mr. Long is there."
Shi Huan blinked several times before the information entered his head.
Mr. Long had returned. Finally.
It had been almost two weeks since Shi Huan approached him at the restaurant, asking him to return to the Sacred Lotus. The Tuesday after that night, the young man had watched the living room door, waiting to see him appear. For some reason, he had convinced himself that Nicholas Long would come just to please him. It was not like that, of course. And when Shi Huan reviewed the reservation book, he found that he had not booked for Friday or the following week.
At first, the young man told himself that he deserved it well: he barely knew that man and already took many things for granted with respect to him. Mr. Long had shown him time and again that he was wrong.
"It's not ‘my Mr. Long’, Ban Yue”, it was what he finally said with a sigh. “And I'm already quite busy. Take charge.”
The girl opened her eyes much more, horrified.
“Are you mad? Do you want me to be kicked out today?”
Shi Huan watched her when he already arranged the dishes on the tray and let go of the air, slowly.
"Just ... take his order and ..."
"I'll take care, young master Shi."
Shi Huan turned in front of Yin Yu and smiled, nodding.
"Thank you, Yin Yu."
As soon as Shi Huan walked away in the direction of the hall, Ban Yue stood in front of Yin Yu, arms in jugs.
"Young lady," said the man, watching her in bewilderment.
“What do you think you're doing?” the girl demanded in a whisper. “Don't get between them, okay? The dragon lord is only here for young master Shi only. He won't look at anyone else. He doesn't want anyone else.”
"I don't want Mr.… Long," Yin Yu replied, frowning. “Why would I want ... And how do you know that he only wants him?”
Ban Yue pouted.
"Everyone knows it's like that. Don't mess, young lord Yin. Don't get in the way of the young Shi.”
Before he could react, she turned on her heel and headed for the salon.
Shi Huan served the two tables, ignoring the feeling of being watched. Turning around, he found that Yin Yu kept his word, attending table 17. Nicholas Long talked to the waiter, even smiling when he made a comment.
Shi Huan blinked, realizing he was satring like an idiot and returned to the kitchen.
"You don't fool me, Huan-gege."
Ban Yue hung on his arm and dragged him to a corner.
"What do you want, mei mei?" He snorted, like an impatient older brother.
“Something happens to you. You are not smiling. And you didn't want to attend to Mr. Long; but you look at him like you want to do it. Did something happen between you both? Did something happen with ... your boyfriend?”
“No. Nothing happened with them. Neither with Nicholas Long nor with Ming Yi. I'm fine. I'm just tired.”
She looked at him for a few seconds and, taking a step, put her hand on his forehead.
"You're not sick, gege. But you are sad. And worried. Why don't you talk to your little sister? Talking is good. It's what Xie Lian says.”
Shi Huan was always surprised at how Ban Yue changed the name of the social worker. Anyway, the mention of his first friend and the only one who cared for him after the death of his parents caused the young man's barriers to collapse. With a sigh of defeat, he leaned back on the wall and said, quietly:
“They are going to cancel the scholarship. My scholarship. I have one more month to fix everything; but for the next one I will have to get money if I want to continue the course. I need money, Ban Yue. A lot of money. Where am I going to get $ 5,000 in a month? I have an income to pay, food to buy, transportation ... And it's 5000 per month! What am I going to do now? I need to get that title, Ban Yue. Nobody would hire an amateur and the only thing I'm good at is dancing. I don't want to spend all my life serving tables. I want to be famous and that people know my name and ... and want to see me. I want people to think I'm great.” His eyes shone as he confessed his dreams. “And I want to dance. Dance as if floating in the water ... in the wind.”
His voice died in a whisper and his gaze was fixed beyond the girl, as if he could see that future he had dreamed for him. He was startled to feel a hand on his forearm and looked down to find Ban Yue's comforting expression.
"I think you're great, Huan-gege. Song Xia believes it too. And many of us. We will find a solution and you will make your dream come true.”
Shi Huan watched her for a few seconds and suddenly, he let out a cheerful laugh. Extending a hand, he rubbed the girl's hair, messing her bangs.
“Of course we do. There is always a solution. Isn't that what Xian Le says? We are going back to work. Song Xia will bother us if we keep hiding here.”
They went to the saloon’s door while Ban Yue adjusted her bangs behind her left ear. When they were about to go out, Shi Huan stepped aside and held the door open for Yin Yu to pass with the tray in one hand. He looked at the young man in the direction of Mr. Long's table. With a pout, Shi Huan looked away only to meet his friend's enlightened expression.
"I have the solution to your problem."
"Talk to Mr. Long. He can solve everything.”
"Why would I do such a thing? Why would Nic ... Mr. Long help me? He's just a customer and I ...”
"He may be your sugar daddy."
Shi Huan was speechless.
"Sorry," he babbled after a moment. “My what?”
"Your sugar daddy. Don't tell me you don't know what a sugar daddy is, Shi Huan,” she snorted impatiently. “You will not convince me that you are so naive.”
"Of course I know what a ... How do you know? I haven't met your boyfriend yet.”
"Oh, leave Pei-gege out of this," the girl grimaced, crossing her arms and kicking the floor. “Pei Su is not that old.”
"Neither is Nicholas Long."
“All right! Then he can simply be your rich boyfriend.”
"Mr. Long is not interested in me in that way, Ban Yue. He ... he likes women. And let's stop talking about this, ok? It's ... nonsense and disrespectful. The man is sitting right there ...”
"And he's looking at you."
Shi Huan turned his head so fast that his neck snapped. Sure enough, Nicholas Long was looking in his direction and when he got his attention, he lifted the cup of wine in greeting before putting it to his lips.
Before realizing what he was doing, Shi Huan responded to the greeting with a bow.
Shi Wudu and Shi QingXuan wish you a Merry Christmas.
He Xuan too; but he can't speak because he has a full mouth.
Chapter 9: 8
Lang Qian Qiu opened the apartment door and looked at the bag on the sofa. He frowned, playing with the motorcycle keys in one hand. He looked up when he heard the steps that stopped as they arrived in the room.
Gu Zhi had stopped at the threshold between the living room and the kitchen. He wore modern clothes, which surprised Lang Qian Qiu then, the young man preferred to wear traditional attire.
"Are you going somewhere?" Asked the older, indicating with a gesture the bag.
Gu Zhi did not answer, holding his gaze firmly.
"How many days do you plan to be out?"
This time, the young man shrugged.
“Where are you going?”
"Is this an interrogation?" Gu Zhi finally spoke with a half mocking smile.
"This is what I feel like, kid," Lang Qian Qiu replied through his teeth, stepping in his direction. “You are my responsibility and I want to know where the hell you get.”
"You are not my father. We are nothing. And I'm not a kid anymore”, he hissed when the other opened his mouth to speak. “I have work to do.”
Without waiting for another question from him, Gu Zhi went to the sofa and grabbed the bag. Turning in the direction of the door, however, he met Lang Qian Qiu in front of him.
“What?” He raised an eyebrow, marked by a white scar.
"I don't know what the hell you think you're doing; but I will not allow you to get into trouble.”
The young man gave a crooked smile.
“Seriously? Won't you allow it? I already told you that you are not my damn father.”
"You live with me. You are my responsibility and until you…”
"I'm a damn immortal. Like you. I am a heavenly officer. For what it serves”, he snorted mockingly.
"Well, well you forget it when you mix with demons and ..."
“Breaking news, Your Highness Tai Hua: demons are more powerful than heavenly officers.”
Lang Qian Qiu was stunned for a moment and Gu Zhi took the opportunity to pass by him in the direction of the exit. A tug on the shoulder bag forced him to stop. He turned to face him with his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth clenched.
The prince of Yong An held his gaze firmly.
"I don't know what you're doing; but it's not the solution, Gu Zhi. You are not going to bring him back like this.”
“I’m not? And how? Do you know how to do it? He knows. He could come back ... even when he wasn't supposed to! And he came back more powerful than before. He will help me bring him back.”
He struggled to free the backpack from Lang Qian Qiu's grip; but he twisted his hand on the handle, pulling hard. Gu Zhi racked and fell forward, crashing into his chest.
"He can't," the prince roared through his teeth. “No one can bring him back unless he wants, that he is strong enough.”
Gu Zhi raised his face sharply to find his gaze.
"He will come back for me. He will want to come back for me. I just have to find the way ... the mode ...”
“That's the only mode! The only way!”
"You can't know! You haven't even tried to help him in all these centuries! You hate him! You want him to stay dead! Far from me!”
"And hell if I want that asshole to come back!" Lang Qian Qiu exploded, finally releasing the bag to catch the young man's shoulders with both hands. “But I have searched, yes! I have investigated how to bring him back ... For you! Because you want him to come back!”
The silence followed his roar. Gu Zhi could do nothing but remain motionless between the hands that twitched on his shoulders, slightly reclined against the broad chest.
Lang Qian Qiu tightened his grip and leaned down until his mouth covered the young man's.
Gu Zhi did not resist: he parted his lips and let the other's tongue slip inside, brushing and exploring.
They kissed hungry, anxious, quenching a desire they didn't know they felt. Their bodies molded, tense.
When they pulled away to breathe, they didn't apart much - a thread of saliva connecting their panting mouths.
The youngest was the one who backed away first, holding the elder's gaze.
"You're not coming back," Lang Qian Qiu said hoarsely.
Gu Zhi did not answer, freeing himself from his hands at last.
"I just hope you really get him back," the older man sighed, turning his back as he ran his hands through his short hair.
After a moment, the only answer was the door closing.
Ming Yi stopped when he reached the room and found Shi Huan sitting in a chair with a hot beer in his hand.
"Hey," the boy greeted, drawing an sad smile.
Ming Yi approached him and sat on the couch, watching him with a frown.
“You're good?” he asked cautiously.
“Perfectly. I just ... wanted to talk to you. Well, we really must talk.”
The elder leaned back, leaning back on the couch.
"You have to find a new roommate. I'm going ... I'm going to have to move.”
“What are you talking about, Shi Huan?”
“That. I have to move. I need ... to cut expenses. Cut!” repeated the word, laughing silly. “There are spending cuts everywhere lately. No, seriously”. He changed his expression, getting serious at the moment. “I have to find another place to live ... a much cheaper one. They are going to close the scholarship, do you understand? I'm going to run out of scholarship and I will have to pay for my studies if I want to finish them. And I really want to finish them. It is unlikely that a bank will grant me a loan when I don't even have a bicycle to offer as collateral so… I will look for a cheaper apartment. Probably do as the girls and get three more partners to divide the rent or ... or I can rent a loft somewhere. And maybe I get another job ...”
“Are you crazy?” Ming Yi interrupted, rudely. !Another job? You just rest with this and the university. How are you going to manage with a second job?”
"I'll see how I do it; but I need the money, Ming-xiong. I need to pay for those studies and get that title. I need to be someone. I need…”
“You are someone.”
Shi Huan looked up at the bottle in his hands and met Ming Yi's dark eyes. At some point, he had moved to kneel before him and took his face with one hand, stroking his cheek.
"You are someone, Shi Huan. Don't be silly”, he said seriously. “And don't start running so soon. We’re ... going to fix it. Together.”
"Oh, Ming Yi!" exclaimed the boy, laughing almost sweetly. “We have to share the expenses to pay for this apartment! You don't have ... you don't have how to help me.”
Ming Yi clenched his jaw, containing the anger that the comment caused his.
"I'm going to find the way. This time ... let me take care.”
Shi Huan watched him for a second and finally nodded, smiling.
“As you like. But I'm going to start looking for a new apartment for me.”
“For us. If you leave, we go together.”
"Wow, Ming-xiong!" He raised an eyebrow, naughty. “That sounded almost like a statement. Is there something you want to tell me? You can tell me, you know? I'm your best friend.”
Ming Yi threw his head back while muttering:
Ming Yi sat up in bed, leaning on one elbow. He watched Shi Huan, making sure he was asleep and stealthily, slipped out of bed, heading for the door.
Once in his own room, the young man dispelled the magic that hid his true appearance. Black hair floated around him until he touched his waist and a black mark appeared in his brow. He picked up a black robe with silver embroideries and covered his body with it.
He stopped at the window, staring at the night sky. With a gesture, he made the cell phone on the nightstand float to his hand. Without looking, marked the first speed dial contact.
At the third bell, he hung up the call. He waited a few minutes. Attempting to contact Hua Cheng through the spiritual communication network was a lost case: the Demon King's password was a bigger mystery than the location of Atlantis. Only Xie Lian knew it and definitely, he wasn't going to share it with him.
Hua Cheng's voice broke into the thoughts of the Black Waters Demon.
Something wrong? It is full dawn.
I doubt you need sleep, He Xuan said, raising an eyebrow.
Is it the only thing you use at dawn, He Xuan? For sleeping?
He Xuan decided to ignore the mocking and mischievous tone of the other demon. He hadn't contacted him to discuss what he did or didn't do with Shi Huan during the nights.
I need your help.
I need money.
The silence followed his words. Probably, now Hua Cheng would remind him how much it was the amount of debt between them. And certainly, he remembered ... and planned to pay! But now he needed to help Shi Huan. Now he just had to worry about ...
If it's because of the boy, we're already taking care of that.
Isn't it because of the young Shi scholarship?
Eh yes. How…? He called His Highness the Crown Prince, right? I should have guessed.
We are already in charge of solving it.
Shi Huan will not accept to be paid tuition. Unless he has the possibility to pay you.
Decent boy, Hua Cheng commented humorously.
He Xuan ignored the taunt and pursed his lips.
Keep me informed, please. Or we will have to look for a new department.
You could also look for a real job. But that will not be necessary. Young Shi will finish his studies and become someone famous. Now, go back to sleep with the boy. You should seize every moment by his side.
He Xuan had no chance to ask anything else: with the last sentence, Hua Cheng cut off the communication.
For a moment, he continued to stand before the window.
It seemed that fate was against him: in addition to the theft of Shi WuDu's ashes, things began to occur in the sea - his dominions. After the death of Shi WuDu, no god had emerged powerful enough to dispute aquatic dominance. Centuries ago, heavenly officers - with the exception of Xie Lian and a few others - were simple decorative figures. However, the emergence of a new demon, capable of controlling the waters like him, represented a danger. Who could have such an affinity with the waters as to discuss his supremacy? And now, Shi Huan had problems.
He wanted to be with Shi Huan, he wanted to support him and being he who saved him, who solved all his problems; however, he had to take care of finding that demon and getting him out of the way. He could not afford to lose power, to lose influence, to stop being the most fearsome. He could not afford to fall.
"You should seize every moment by his side."
For some reason, Hua Cheng's words seemed like a prophecy.
Turning on his heels, He Xuan left the bedroom. Only when he opened the door of Shi Huan's room, he remembered that he continued with his true appearance and cursed under his teeth, as he changed his appearance again.
Hua Cheng settled against the back of the bed, resting his head on the folded arm. The red sheet was entangled in his long legs, leaving little to the imagination. Dark, straight hair fell on his chest and pillows. On his shoulder, rested the braid sealed with the coral bead.
The bathroom door opened and Hua Cheng smiled - his only eye lighting as if a star was lit in his pupil.
Xie Lian sensed his husband's look and smile ... and froze. The blush covered his neck and face and instinctively, he pulled the flap of the white silk robe to cover his chest more. He raised a hand and fiddled with a tuft of wet hair that fell over his right shoulder.
"Did you talk to He Xuan?" inquired without his voice faltering.
"I calmed him down."
“Thank you. I just hope he doesn't say anything to Shi Huan.”
“He will not. You know he doesn't talk too much”, he shrugged. “Is Gege not going back to bed yet?”
"Hey ... I have ... I have to do ... something first."
"You can do it here, sitting next to me."
Xie Lian bit his lower lip. He really liked the idea of returning to San Lang's side and laying his head on his chest, feeling his smell, his body, his hands in his hair ... on his skin ...
“Better not!” he decided, turning around. “I better do this without distractions.”
Hua Cheng raised an eyebrow.
"Am I a distraction, gege?" He asked provocatively.
Xie Lian ignored him as he walked towards the window with his eyes closed and pronounced the password to enter the network of spiritual communication.
Ling Wen? He called immediately.
He waited a few seconds before repeating the call.
He was calling for the third time when hands rested on his hips. Hua Cheng pulled him to rest against his chest. Xie Lian emitted a murmur when he felt the erection pressing on his butt.
Your Highness Xie Lian.
Ling Wen's voice caused the crown prince to open his eyes, startled. Clearing his throat, he wanted to depart from Hua Cheng; but the muscular arms held them firmly.
Your Highness Xie Lian. Did you call me? Is it a good moment?
Yes! Xie Lian exclaimed. Ling Wen, I need ... I need to locate someone. It is ... it is a demon that has ... You may have heard of him: Shuǐlóng nì tiān.
Ling Wen did not answer and Xie Lian assumed that he consulted his subordinates; but at that moment he was too busy trying to ignore the hand of San Lang that slid to the front of the robe to catch the cord that tied it and slowly pull it, untying the knot.
I can try to find it, Your Highness. May I ask what matters you have with him?
Ah ... first I want to make sure that he is who I think he is.
What if he were?
So we have to talk. About someone close to him. Can you let me know when you locate him?
I will take care immediately. Is it all, Your Highness?
Yes. Thank you, Ling Wen.
He cut the communication before the woman could respond. Desperate, he turned around to face his partner.
"San Lang," he murmured thickly, wrapping his fingers in the thin braid, "you're being very ... naughty."
Hua Cheng gave a sideways, provocative smile.
"Gege is going to punish me?"
Xie Lian choked on his own breath. Wetting his lips, he said:
The Demon King did not stop smiling as he stepped back, allowing the other to fully appreciate his magnificent nakedness in the dim light of the room.
“How are things going? Better? You have a better face.”
Shi Huan smiled without looking away from his reflection as he accommodated the neck of the qipao. With a sideways glance, he glanced at the girl leaning on the bathroom door.
Song Xia could be severe and a pain in the butt; but she was a good friend. In fact, she was like an older sister for the youngest of the restaurant. He had adopted Shi Huan and Ban Yue since they appeared on the Sacred Lotus ... and with the problems that both dragged that was saying a lot.
The young man turned in front of her. Of course, Ban Yue had told her what was happening to Shi Huan: it was impossible that one day without the easy laugh of the young man would go unnoticed.
"I'm looking for a new apartment. Cheaper. Ming-xiong says me to take it easy, that everything will be fixed; but ... 5000 dollars are not going to fall from the sky, right?”
"Unless they fall off a plane and go straight to your hands ... no, they don’t."
"Or that I have a protector among the clouds, watching over me," Shi Huan suggested, following the joke.
"A guardian angel?"
"A god of those of the films? All handsome and with a huge sword.”
Song Xia raised an eyebrow.
"You are already thinking shit. Let's work: the idle mind is distracted by stupid thoughts.”
"What stupid thought? Wouldn't you want a martial god as a boyfriend?”
"Who wants a martial god as a boyfriend?" Ban Yue interjected, sticking her head out the other side of the door. “You, Jiejie?”
"There Huan, apparently."
"Oh," the girl blinked.
"With a huge sword," said the young man, undeterred.
“Supremes also have swords. Huge.”
"What is a Supreme?" Shi Huan frowned at the younger girl's reply.
Song Xia shrugged.
“A demon. A Demon King to be more exact.”
“I see. Do they have any money?”
"Well ... most of them," Ban Yue pouted. “I've heard that Demon King Black Waters doesn't really have much. Instead, Crimson Rain and ... the Water Dragon ...!”
“Water Dragon? Are not dragons supposed to be heavenly beasts?”
“All right!” Said Song Xia. “Let's leave the folklore debate after the work shift, yes? Neither the Dirty Waters that neither the Red Rain nor the celestial dragon will serve tables for us. By the way, Yue-mei, how do you know so much about that subject? Do you like folklore?”
“Oh! Pei-gege loves legends”, the girl explained with a radiant smile. "He knows many. Above all of the heavenly officers.”
"Heavenly officers? What are they? The police of heaven?”
"They are gods. Or they used to be. When people believed in them”, she sighed as they headed for the living room.
"Aha," Shi Huan nodded, frowning slightly. “But no one believes in them anymore.”
"Some people do. There are chapels and hidden hermitages in remote places. Many people continue to offer gifts and prayers to some gods. Especially in the interior of the continent. But some gods to those who pray, no longer exist in reality and others have assumed their functions, taking care that the prayers of those people are fulfilled.”
"Isn't that like lying to humans?"
Ban Yue pursed his mouth in the form of a cocoon and shook his head from side to side.
“Yes. But, Huan-gege, believers are something so valuable or scarce, that heavenly officials cannot afford to lose them. And if, in the end, your longing is fulfilled, what does it matter who heard your prayer?”
They had reached the salon and Shi Huan bit his lower lip. It seemed as if they had talked about folklore to discuss a fundamental issue of daily life.
"I wouldn't like to be fooled. Not even for my own good. But let's not talk about it: we look like professors discussing nonsense with such seriousness. As if the heavenly officers existed! Or those Supreme!” He let out a carefree laugh and turned around to see that Yin Yu was leading Nicholas Long to his usual table.
The man was accompanied by the same woman Shi Huan saw him in the restaurant that time.
"But fate does exist, Huan-gege," said the girl, following the direction of his gaze.
Shi Huan twisted his mouth and was about to approach one of his usual tables when he noticed that Yin Yu was walking in his direction.
"Greetings, young master Shi. I hadn't seen you yet tonight”, the other man began with that serious and formal style. “Mr. Long has asked you to attend him tonight.”
"Oh, but more customers are coming and I think he likes you ..."
"Long-gongzi has asked Mr. Chu in person, young Shi."
Shi Huan glanced at table 17 and licked his lips.
"I guess it can't be helped then. There goes the little face I had left.”
"Do you see it, Huan-gege?" smiled Ban Yue. “Destiny does exist.”
"Meimei, what exists is a capricious rich guy getting into my life."
"That's what I say," Ban Yue nodded. “Fate needs to get its ass kicked from time to time. Ah! Mrs. Zhuge is coming. She is such a sweet lady!” and without waiting for a response from her friend, she hurried in the direction of the old woman dressed in an expensive black dress and heavy gold jewelry.
Forty minutes later, Shi Huan was cursing at fate. Why had this man asked to attend to him? To humiliate him, obviously. Throughout the night he had spoken to him rather than to order, concentrating all his attention on that woman.
And she was an attractive woman, had to admit Shi Huan. There was something about her that made people look down even if they were eager to admire her. It wasn't that her beauty broke standards or that she looked like a super model; but she was elegance personified: just the female you would imagine alongside Nicholas Long, Shi Huan acknowledged with a hint of envy.
Unlike Mr. Long, the woman had smiled at Shi Huan and even asked him if he had been working in the restaurant for a long time. She also asked if he was a native of Hong Kong. The brief exchange only served to make the young man more convinced of that woman's perfection: her voice was slightly low, sensual, even a little ... manly. She herself had a little masculine energy overlapping her lips painted coral red, her eyes outlined like those of a cat, her tight dark green dress ... but she was tremendously feminine.
Shi Huan shook his head: he was increasingly convinced that he had made a fool of his life by assuming that Nicholas Long wanted ... with him ... what a shame!
He returned to the table, carrying the bill and waited for Mr. Long to extract his wallet.
"In cash, Shi-xiong?" The woman provoked him, raising an eyebrow. “You are a bit outdated to be ... you.”
"It's more practical for me," he shrugged, leaving several bills on top of the account holder.
Shi Huan picked up the payment with a bow and turned to return with the change.
"Save the change." He turned again to thank the man; but he spoke again, with an impenetrable expression: "I will wait for you when you finish your turn. We need to talk.”
The young man remained petrified, watching as the couple stood up and passed by him.
Shi Huan stopped when he reached the sidewalk. He adjusted the turtleneck of the sweater and ran his hand through his hair, checking that it was still in a tight bun at the base of the neck. Wetting his lips, he crossed the street in a straight line to the dark car.
As he approached, he discovered that the car was a deep blue and raised an eyebrow, thinking that Nicholas Long seemed to have a predilection for that color.
The driver's side window went down to show that Mr. Long had no driver.
"Get in," the man ordered, with a gesture.
Shi Huan opened his mouth to tell him that he really wasn't going with him anywhere; but before he made the first syllable, the dark crystal rose again. In the middle of the street, the young mang felt stupid. With a snort of impatience, he circled the car and obeyed the order.
“Where we go?” Asked as soon as they started the march.
"I already apologized for my nonsense. I'm glad you decided to come back. Your ... friend is a very beautiful woman. Are you two lovers?”
Shit! He hit his mouth with one hand, cursing internally. Couldn't he stop fooling himself around this man? What the hell did he care if he slept with that woman or not? What the hell did he care if he slept with someone?
"Miss Ling is an old friend," Nicholas Long explained with a funny half smile.
"Very old she does not seem."
There he went again. Shi Huan would have wanted to sink into the leather of the seat until he was just a decoration.
"She is older than she seems. We both are. You are old enough to enter a nightclub, right?”
Shi Huan looked at him, slightly offended.
“I'm 22. I'm more than an adult to go to a club. And drink until I can't stand up.”
"I hope we don't get to that," the older man commented as he slowed.
Shi Huan followed him to the chosen local, recognizing one of the newly opened nightclubs. The site was fashionable, especially among people of good life, as the guys used to say in the restaurant. The young man accommodated his sweater once more, observing the other people who were heading to the entrance of the club sideways: everyone dressed elegantly and despite the late night, the place seemed quite crowded.
He jumped when a hand rested slightly on the lower part of his back, over his pants and raised his head to look at Nicholas Long, who kept his eyes straight ahead.
"Let's go inside: it's much quieter than it seems."
He was right, Shi Huan checked once they were sitting on a curved divan in one of the quietest corners of the premises. In front of the seat was a low table covered for chrome glass, on which rested Shi Huan's cocktail and Mr. Long's wine.
The young looked around and ended up looking at the cool colors of his drink: blue, green and yellow followed each other so that the upper end of the glass was occupied by a pink and sweet foam in which he had almost sunk his tongue like a kid with cotton candy. Finally, he looked up at the man next to him.
Nicholas Long had unbuttoned his jacket and crossed one leg over the other, exposing the dark vest tight to his torso.
Shi Huan bit his cheek inside, appreciating the man in general. Not only was Nicholas Long handsome in an almost ... impossible way to bear - the guy was like a train, really - but he always dressed as the protagonist of a romance novel. Shi Huan liked his style: it was a bit dark and at the same time elegant to luxury. Aristocratic, the correct word to describe Nicholas Long was ‘aristocratic’. He would have loved to look like this.
"So you weren't born in Hong Kong." Shi Huan straightened when he heard his companion's comment. “Where are you from?”
“I was born in Kunming; but my family moved to Sichuan ... to Luzhou, when I was still a baby. My father's work made him travel a lot and when I was eight, we spent more time moving from one side to another than with a fixed abode.”
"How old were you when they died?"
Shi Huan gave a casual smile as he extended his arm to reach for his drink.
"Is it so obvious?"
"It is for me," said Mr. Long, staring at him.
“Thirteen years. We were on one of my father's work trips and they went to an important dinner. I had to stay at the hotel because I had a cold. It was ... a rainy night and ...”
He frowned as he remembered. One of the reasons why Shi Huan always seemed cheerful was that he never talked about his parents, about the death of his parents. Only Xian Le knew what had happened in detail; even for Ming Yi it had been only: ‘my parents died years ago’.
"They died on the spot, as the social worker who took care of me at that first moment explained me. It was complicated: I had no other relatives and I had to stay in the social assistance center of the city until I was transferred to the city where we had our last residence.”
“It was difficult to return after more than five years without living in that city. I went through several healthcare centers until I met Xian Le. He ... he takes his job very seriously. In a way, he adopted me. He even helped me when I decided to move to Hong Kong.”
“Why here? Why Hong Kong?”
Shi Huan watched him, considering the question.
"Hong Kong is ... different. With more options and ... freedoms.”
Nicholas Long showed no reaction as he emptied the wine cup and leaned down to reach the lacquered wood bottle. Impulsively, Shi Huan stepped forward and leaving his own drink on the coaster, took the bottle and filled the cup, then handed it out. Long watched him without moving for a few seconds before extending his hand in his direction.
"When did you know?"
"That you're gay."
This time, it was Shi Huan's turn to be baffled.
"Oh ... I'm not ... I ... I like them both ..." He frowned when he realized he was babbling. 2I'm bisexual, Mr. Long, and I've known since I was fifteen or so.”
"Interesting," said the older man, raising an eyebrow. “I was really going to ask you when you knew you wanted to study dance; but it seemed fair to give you back your own nonsense, Shi Huan.”
The boy gaped at the realization that he had played a joke. After a moment, he laughed, throwing his head back.
“It's okay. I deserve it. When I know I wanted to study dance, huh? I always liked to see the dancers, watch the sleeves shake in the air and the bodies undulate as if ... as if they floated. Dance is ... the closest way to my dreams.”
"I've always dreamed that I was flying, floating in the clouds ... or held only by the water ..." An abstracted smile curved his mouth. “And that people loved me. I dream that people follow me, love me, want to see my face, pronounce my name with ... adoration. The only way to achieve that is to be famous. I will be the best dancer in the world”, he concluded, raising his gaze to the man's face.
"Sure," Nicholas Long nodded and emptied the cup with one drink. “If that is what you want.”
Shi Huan blinked, as if out of a trance. Had he really told this man the dreams he had in his childhood? Shaking his head, he stepped forward on the couch to refill Mr. Long's cup once more.
The man's hand closed around his wrist.
"I didn't invite you to serve me the drink, Shi ... Huan."
"I have no problem with doing so," replied the young man, raising the cup for hold it with his free hand.
Nicholas Long pursed his lips as a flash crossed his dark eyes.
"You weren't born to serve," he hissed under his breath.
Shi Huan was surprised to hear him. His hand faltered and the cup turned between his fingers, spilling its contents on the table.
“Oh jesus!” He exclaimed, pursing his mouth. “How clumsy I am. I'm sorry, Mr. Long. I'll order some napkins for ...”
“Brat, you are not a servant.”
The young man turned to look at him, slowly. Nicholas Long's hand kept closing around his wrist, below the sweater cuff, touching the inside of his wrist with his thumb and forefinger. For a second, he was surprised that his hand was so small compared to that of the other man - as if they had somehow been designed to fit one into the other.
‘He could be your sugar daddy.’
Ban Yue's voice crawled in his mind like an insidious snake. It was nothing from the other world. Young men and women had older lovers to get ahead in life. Many were not even lucky that their ... benefactor was as attractive as this man. It would be fine ... deep inside, Shi Huan knew he would be fine in Nicholas Long’s hands, in his bed ... with him.
He wasn't sure how he had done it; but the next minute, he was almost on the man, with his lips glued to his. Shi Huan was sure of himself, of his ability in sex and ... in kisses; but at that precise moment, he just stood there, pressing his mouth on Mr. Long's. Nothing else.
Nicholas Long did not move, neither to answer the kiss nor to reject him.
Time stopped. And then, Nicholas parted his lips. Just a little.
Shi Huan took the opportunity. He slid his tongue inside the man's mouth and opened his lips more, moving slightly to change the angle. He did not close his eyes: his gaze was caught in the dark, slightly dilated pupils of the other. He moved his tongue slowly, sweeping the palate, running his teeth, touching the tips of the fangs, meeting the tongue of the other.
He felt the urge - the need - to pass a leg over Nicholas Long and sit on his lap, feel the man's pelvis against him, know if ... His stomach shuddered at the thought and he let out a muffled groan as he pressed his tongue against that of the other.
Mr. Long's free hand rose and rested on the back of his neck - fingers brushing the root of his hair almost imperceptibly. Shi Huan shuddered and backed away, realizing he had been kissing the man for too long.
He watched Nicholas Long's face: he was still as impassive as ever and the young man moistened his lips, hesitating. Nicholas's eyes dropped to his mouth. Without thinking, Shi Huan came forward to kiss him again.
The man's fingers against his mouth held him back.
"No," said Nicholas Long in a firm, distant tone.
Shi Huan dropped into the seat, confused.
“No?” repeated very quietly.
"I think you've misunderstood everything, kid. It will not happen. This ... this way ... it won't happen.”
Shi Huan blinked.
It will not happen.
Oh crap! Shame made a ball in his throat. He turned away from the man, hiding his face as he assumed the ridicule he had done.
"I want to go," he muttered.
"Shi Huan ..."
“I need to go. I don't want ... I don't want you to invite me anywhere again. I don’t wanna see you. I don't want you to talk to me again.”
"I don't want to be near you again," he shook his head as he stood up.
Without looking back at the man, who was still seated, he ran away, blindly.
Happy New Year! That's all, folks. For this year.
Chapter 11: 10
He was so eager to get away that he didn't even contemplate the idea of taking a taxi. In a hurry, he crossed several streets until he stopped before a bus stop, mechanically. He barely noticed the trip, standing by the door and only reacted when he recognized the stop closest to his building.
He entered the apartment and closed the door, leaning on it. It was only at that moment that he remembered what happened in the club.
It was only at that moment that Shi Huan allowed shame and disappointment to penetrate his mood, weighing on his stomach. He had kissed him. He had kissed Nicholas Long, for heaven's sake! And the man had rejected him! Rejected! And no, it was not the fact that he had been rejected what he disliked; but he had totally misunderstood what was happening.
Or maybe not, he reflected as he slid to the floor and hugged his knees. He had seen - yes, he had seen it! - in Nicholas's eyes the desire, the greed, the instinct to go for him and for a moment, that had been perfectly normal. However, it would not be the first opportunity for Shi Huan to run into people who were not able to admit their own desires, men and women who refused their own satisfaction for following values and traditions in whose shadow they were educated. He had also met those who sought the secret to show their true face. For a moment, he considered that this was Mr. Long's situation: perhaps a man like him - whose face appeared in magazines and was surrounded by famous people - was not willing to be seen touching a little boy with no name. Not even with a well-known one, possibly.
No. Shi Huan shook his head and buried it in his hands. There was something else in Nicholas's refusal - more than fear of being seen, of being photographed, of being the subject of gossip. There was something ... definitive, almost ... bitter in the way he pushed him away. And then, in the tone with which he called him, with which he pronounced his name ... as if, despite everything, he claimed him.
"Enough," the young man muttered, standing up. “If he returns to the restaurant, he’ll be just another customer. Or maybe he is more than happy that Yin Yu attends to him. I, at least, don’t want ... never again ...”
As if his brain made fun of him, the memory of Nicholas's mouth came to his mind. During the few minutes he kissed him, Shi Huan could taste not only the man; but that feeling of electricity that made a kiss a unique, unrepeatable event. A part of him wanted to rationalize that he’d have felt the same with anyone who seemed attractive; however, another part of him refused to admit that the intensity that swept through his insecurities while kissing him was due only to the physical appearance of Nicholas Long.
He ran a hand through his hair, tangling his fingers in the almost undone bun and his attention was drawn to the line of light that emerged beneath the door of Ming Yi's bedroom.
He Xuan turned on himself when he heard the knock on the door. Without thinking, he put the spell back on him, hiding his demonic features just in time for the door to be opened and Shi Huan appeared in the doorway.
“Something happens?” Asked the demon, frowning slightly.
"Should something happen for me to enter your room?" It was the young man's casual response as he advanced to the center of the room, pushing the door behind him so that it was ajar.
He Xuan clenched his mouth in a line. Two years living with Shi Huan had helped him define the differences between this person and Shi QingXuan.
Yes, in essence - in soul ... in their three souls - Shi Huan and the Wind Master were the same person; but the experiences had made this young person a different one. Just that: different. But the demon Black Waters still knew him as he did millennia ago.
"You never come here," he said, raising an eyebrow.
“There is always a first time.”
He Xuan looked suspiciously at the young human.
Shi Huan crossed the distance between them, throwing himself on his roommate almost too impetuously. Grabbing him from the lapels of the bathrobe, he pulled him to the same level and kissed him hard, devouring his mouth, biting and sucking while pressing the lower part of his body against the other.
The Supreme hesitated for a second - a sigh in time - and raising a hand, he sank it into the disheveled hair of Shi Huan to answer the kiss greedily.
Shi Huan sensed his lover's desperate response and a moan of relief rose to his throat. Immediately, the force that led him to that room overshadowed any thought on his part.
On previous occasions, Shi Huan had let Ming Yi take the reins, controlling the situation to his liking ... Not this time. He wanted - needed - to exorcise his mind and mouth from the existence of another man, of someone who would never be for him.
Ming Yi let out a surprise sound when Shi Huan pushed him toward the bed. For a moment, they both groped until the bed blocked their way and Ming Yi sat down, watching from below the inhuman beauty of his partner.
Shi Huan took a few seconds to observe the other man, whose dark eyes ran through him as if they wanted to learn every detail of his skin. Ming Yi was his partner, his friend, his lover ... his dream: it was with him who he wanted to be with.
Crossing his arms in front, Shi Huan pulled out his sweater and shirt at once, stripping his torso. Along with the garments, the league that picked up the hair also fell and the black-as-ink hair slid over shoulders and back, highlighting the paleness of the skin. He took off his shoes with his toes while opening his pants before pushing them down his hips.
Ming Yi followed every gesture with his eyes. Shi Huan's nakedness was always a delight, a wonder he never got tired of - perhaps because in the past he didn't enjoy it enough. He licked his lips with the tip of his tongue and extended both hands to put them on the youngest's hips.
Shi Huan stopped his partner's gesture, grabbing him by the wrists to hold his arms above his head, leaning forward while straddling him, knees at his sides.
Always holding himself up above Ming Yi, Shi Huan opened the dark robe and descended to rest his lips on the side of his throat, going down ... then down to his chest, to dark nipples, to his belly.
The elder closed his eyes, panting every time the other licked and nibbled-nibbled and licked, in an infinite succession that made life boil inside him.
It was not clear how they found themselves in the middle of the bed - Shi Huan still dominating the situation. He straightened on his elbows to see when the young man took his stiff sex in his mouth, devouring it to the root.
Shi Huan was skilled with his mouth. Each time he descended, Ming Yi could feel the enveloping pressure of his tongue, the dangerous brush of his teeth, the promising top of his throat. But even more exciting was to see the young man carry a hand behind his back and search.
Ming Yi growled hoarsely as he understood what the other was doing: preparing his intimate entrance while giving him pleasure with his mouth.
Shi Huan paid no attention to the awkwardness of the position: he continued to suck his lover's cock while opening himself with two fingers. Several times he touched the point of pleasure and withdrew his hand with effort, making sure not to allow Ming Yi to end up in his mouth. When the elder finally arched, seeking to increase the pace and depth of the onslaught, Shi Huan withdrew, wiping his chin with his fingers as he took a deep breath. Without stopping for a second longer than necessary, he moved to meet Ming Yi's hips and around him with one hand, drove the hard, wet sex inside.
"Heavens," Ming Yi gasped, throwing his head back.
Shi Huan took a breath, getting used to the thick length that widened his insides, filling and tightening. He drove on his knees until only the swollen tip of the cock remained inside him and descended at once, pulling another gasp from his lover. He repeated the ritual, again and again, until it became a desperate ride, accompanied by groans.
Gu Zhi entered the luxuriously furnished room and looked around him. On top of the scrambled bed he spotted a human figure. The person's arm hung out of the bed and the comforter barely covered the man's back, making visible the scratches that crossed shoulders and back.
The young immortal's gaze barely stopped on the human's youthful features before turning to the open balcony door. Through it, he distinguished the silhouette of his lord.
"Great dragon," he said as he approached although he knew it was not necessary to announce his presence.
"Young Gu," Shuǐlóng nì tiān replied without turning around, "you have fulfilled my order, I hope."
"The demon fishes of the China Sea have been destroyed. Hei Shui will feel it at any time.”
Lightning streaked the night sky, making it clear to the young man that despite his indifferent tone, the Supreme was furious.
"Do you have another order for me, Shizun?" he asked cautiously.
"Tomorrow you will go to the Academy of Arts. You will deal with an issue that interests me there. I will give you the instructions when you are in the place.”
Gu Zhi bowed, confirming what he already suspected: that his master's bad mood was caused by the young Shi.
"Should I see the young master Shi on your part?"
“Do not!” roared the demon turning on himself.
The wide blue night robe waved around his slender and muscular body. Electric flashes braided in his loose hair like a sea of ink.
"No one approaches my brother."
"As you wish, my lord," the young man made another bow. “But, if you allow me to dare, you must approach him. Above all, it would seem suspicious that you only get close when Hei Shui has left ...”
"I will not approach QingXuan," Shi WuDu roared through his teeth. “Not this time.”
Gu Zhi blinked, confused. Weren't they doing all that for Shi WuDu to recover his brother?
The former God of Water was oblivious to the perplexity of his ally. Crossing one arm in front of the torso, he closed his hand next to his mouth as a flash of anger crossed his black eyes.
"He is my brother," he murmured, absorbed. “This time ... I'll just be his older brother. Nothing else. I can't afford to be distracted. I can't let him down again just to -No. Not this time. That was what made me wrong before. Too close to protect him. Too close to see something beyond him.” Crisp his fist as if he crushed something in his hand, with rage. “Didi needs to be protected. Even of himself. I was wrong once; but not again. He asked for an opportunity to be free, to be himself, without my shadow sheltering him ... He chose ... and where did that lead us? To death. To betrayal.” He burst out laughing, throwing his head back, the dark scar protruding on his white neck. “Ah He Xuan, you think I want your head because you made my QingXuan a mortal -a beautiful and fragile mortal. Fool! You've always been a jerk. I'm going to rip your skin off for betraying him.” The expression of wild joy became one of bitterness that curved his sensual mouth. “When he had chosen you.”
Gu Zhi took a step back, with the certainty of having heard something he should not, something that Shi WuDu had not shared if he was in complete control of himself. A noise behind him reminded him of the man on the bed and inwardly thanked him for the excuse.
"Master," he called softly, "what should I do with the mortal?"
Shi WuDu frowned as he looked down at his subordinate. For a moment, he seemed not to remember the human in his bed.
"Oh ... right," he said finally, loosening his fingers that he kept closed. “Let it go. Take it to the street.”
"But ... he has seen your true appearance."
“What difference does it make! He was so drugged that he won't even remember it”, he dismissed the young man's worries with a gesture and turned, walking back to the balcony.
Gu Zhi bowed deeply.
Shi WuDu stopped only when he reached the balustrade of the balcony, leaning on it. In the distance, far from Hong Kong, thousands of miles away at sea, the storm unleashed its fury. Shi WuDu closed his eyes and put a hand to his mouth, brushing his lips with the tips of his fingers.
Shi Huan pressed the pillow between his legs, sinking his face into it. Curved in fetal position, Ming Yi's body molded to him from behind. Sweat and semen had dried on his skin; but the young man didn't think about that - he didn't even notice the discomfort. Hours after invading the room of his lover and friend, he had thought again ... of Nicholas Long. And, the more he thought, the more convinced he was that something was wrong, that it was much more complicated than a straight man rejecting his sexual advances. Nicholas's eyes told him ... because Shi Huan knew, deep inside, that Nicholas Long had to have accepted that kiss. And answer it.
Chapter 12: 11
Shi Huan massaged his temples, breathing several times. He had been watching departments all morning, taking advantage of Professor Mei releasing him from the Traditional Dance seminary. However, it was now impossible for him to concentrate on the Cortesan Dance History conference. Mrs. Shui had a shrill and uncomfortable voice that was sharpening the young man's headache.
“Are you feeling fin?” Asked his closest partner, giving him a worried look.
"Yes, I'm just a little tired."
"I thought you rested this morning. Professor Mei made us dance like puppets while you stayed at home”, the other one snorted.
Shi Huan smiled, amused by his friend's annoyance. Ji Hui, like him, was a scholarship holder at the Hong Kong Academy of Arts; however, the young man did not have Shi Huan's talent for dancing. According to most of the cloister, the young Shi possessed a natural grace that turned each of his performances into a spectacle by itself. Professor Mei had tried to convince him to attend an audition for the Beijing Opera; but Shi Huan had preferred to get a university degree that later allowed him to practice his profession, once he could no longer dance.
"I didn't come to the seminary; but I was looking for an apartment all morning”, he confessed after a few minutes.
“Would you move?” the other was baffled.
"Cost cutting," Shi Huan grimaced. “Even sharing the rent with Ming-xiong, it's still too high for me if I want to stay at the University.”
Ji Hui opened his mouth and closed it again when Mrs. Shui raised her shrill voice an octave. For a few minutes, both young men concentrated on the screen on which images of Japanese and Korean dances were projected.
"Wouldn't you like to wear one of those suits one day?" Shi Huan asked when the images changed to supposed dancers of the Zhou Dynasty.
"I don't think I looked good in girl's clothes," Ji Hui whispered and half-turned toward him, asked: "Didn't they tell you?"
“Tell me what?”
"Well, you weren't here in the morning ... Zhong-QianBei told us that there was a meeting of the Directorate yesterday. They are no longer going to cancel the scholarships.”
“How do you say?!” Shi Huan shrieked, sitting up halfway.
"Is something wrong, Mr. Shi?"
The young man turned to look at the lecturer and gave a smile of apology.
“I'm sorry, Professor Shui: Ji-TongXue and I discussed whether the dancers were boys or girls. I say that they are very stylized boys”, he concluded while still smiling.
The teacher turned to look at the screen image above the round glasses and after a second, said:
"Good observing power, Mr. Shi. Although there are dancers of both sexes in that image. Sit down and let us continue.”
Shi Huan bowed before settling into the seat. His partner watched him with a raised eyebrow.
"Boastful," Ji Hui muttered under his breath. “You weren't even paying attention.”
"Repeat about the scholarship."
"What do you want me to repeat? They will not cancel them. The University received an important donation. Well, it's more like an investment ... Shuǐlóng Companies are looking to expand ... into the world of entertainment. It seems that Mr. Long is very ... exquisite and wants to have his own artists when the time comes. In other words, he is going to finance some scholarships in exchange for the fellows committing to work in his company later.”
"Does he have an artistic company?" Shi Huan stammered, stunned.
"Who? ... Ah, Mr. Long. No, not at the moment; but he is creating one and it will be ready when we have finished the race.”
“Mhm… you, Fu Liling and I have been chosen the first beneficiaries with his… investment. Aren’t we lucky? You're hitting us good luck, Shi-xiong. I'm going to stay very close to you, the rest of my life.”
With a violent effort, Shi Huan managed to smile at the suggestion of his classmate.
The conference seemed eternal to Shi Huan. He didn't have to work that night; but the young man needed silence and calm to be able to understand what had happened. Unfortunately, they still had a conference in the afternoon and Shi Huan wasn't sure he could sit for two more hours knowing that Nicholas Long - Nicholas Long! - was paying for his future. How had he known? Was it a simple coincidence? ... Would it have been to talk about that that led him to the club two nights ago? And if Mr. Long was aware of the Academy situation, had Shi Huan influenced his decision to make that ‘investment’? No. He couldn't imagine things: the man had sent him flying – you liar, Shi Huan! Nicholas Long had called him when he fled in shame from the nightclub.
They had a break between conferences and the young man left the premises to sit at least five minutes away from everyone. While heading outside, Shi Huan heard the rumors, even perceived the looks and whispers that accompanied his passage. He heard two girls complain that Mr. Long would only consider the scholarship holders for his future company and he almost ran. Concerned about a morning with no results in the search for the new department, Shi Huan had not noticed the excited atmosphere of the university, something that in other circumstances he would not have missed.
When he finally reached the porch, he breathed hard, filling his lungs.
"Congratulations, Shi Huan," said someone next to him and the young man turned his face to meet a girl with whom he worked on several school projects.
The girl studied Classical Dance and was a year older than Shi Huan; but even if his life had depended on it, the young man would have been able to remember her name. He muttered a thank you and descended the stairs to go to the street. What the fuck! The conference could go to hell. He needs to breathe, get the idea that his future was back in his hands ...
He stopped dead when he reached the parking area.
Leaning against the side of the car, dressed in casual clothes and wearing sunglasses, Nicholas Long seemed to be posing for a photo shoot.
Shi Huan allowed himself the weakness of looking through him. Jeans. The damn man was wearing tight jeans, too youthful for one of the richest men in Asia - according to the Internet. He wore a dark jacket over a V-neck T-shirt and Shi Huan bit his tongue as he saw the flash of the golden medallion hanging from a thin chain, resting between his pecs.
All right. Let him be branded as cocky; but Shi Huan was sure that Mr. Long was there for him. He took a deep breath and started walking toward him.
Nicholas Long straightened, turning away from the dark silver Audi; but he showed no signs of wanting to shorten the distance, leaving all the work to the youngest.
Shi Huan stopped about five steps from the man and, joining his hands in front of his chest, made a respectful bow.
"Thank you, Long-gongzi," he began in a measured tone. “On behalf of my colleagues and mine, and of those who in the future will benefit from your action, I thank you.”
Nicholas Long's raised eyebrow was visible above the dark frame of the lenses.
"Ridiculous," he snorted with a half-sided smile.
Shi Huan straightened, refusing to reveal the irritation that his comment caused.
Ignoring the coldness in the young man's expression, Nicholas Long opened the car door and said:
“We will have lunch.”
“I can’t. I have classes in ...”
“Your qualifications and endorsements of your teachers are good enough for you to skip a lecture on a complementary subject. Come on, Shi Huan: today we are going to talk.”
They had not gone far. Nicholas Long chose a restaurant near the Academy, casual enough that Shi Huan didn't feel out of place with his orange sweater and sneakers.
They were led by a clerk with blonde-dyed hair to the terrace. The young employee - probably the same age as Shi Huan - recited the offers with a smile and keeping her eyes bright on Mr. Long. When the man asked about the liquor offer, the girl suggested a yellow wine from the region and a nonalcoholic cocktail "for his younger brother." Shi Huan almost jumps out of the chair before Nicholas Long accepts the suggestion. The waitress walked away, wiggling her hips in tight black pants.
“Seriously?” Shouted Shi Huan. “You could let me speak and tell that little girl that I am old enough to drink. And that I am not your brother!”
Nicholas Long had left the glasses on the table and smiled at the young man's disgust.
"You look much younger than you are, Shi Huan. And I'm glad to see that you have returned to your usual… lack of emotional filter.”
Shi Huan felt the heat rise to his ears.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, bowing his head.
“Do not do it. That ... polite and repressed young man is not you, Shi Huan. And you do look like my younger brother.”
The young man frowned slightly and raised his face to observe the man. The waitress returned with the drinks and Nicholas Long took a few minutes to order the meal of the two, just consulting Shi Huan with a look from time to time. Shi Huan did not correct any of his choices, a little perplexed by the fact that he had succeeded in almost everything.
"Dessert," he ventured at the end. Mr. Long gave him a serious look and the young man almost regretted having spoken. “I like sweets.”
"Of course," the other nodded and proceeded to order the healthiest sweets he could choose from the menu.
As soon as the employee left, Shi Huan took a sip of his cocktail - alcohol-free - and commented:
"I don't think there's that resemblance between us. I mean, we're more like ... opposite poles. I don't look like your brother.”
“Yes you do. You look like my younger brother”, Nicholas Long insisted and emptied the cup of a drink before adding, in a somber tone: “You do look like my younger brother used to.”
Shi Huan almost drowned with the drink. He set the glass on the table and looked at Mr. Long, confused.
"I have -had a younger brother," the man explained. “You ... are like him.”
"Ridiculous?" joked the young man with a tiny voice, feeling his chest tighten.
Nicholas Long fixed his dark, severe eyes on him.
"Casual. Noisy. With no sense of the politically correct. No sense of danger.”
"A scandal and ... a blessing."
Shi Huan blinked, confused, experiencing again the warmth in his cheeks and ears.
“Jovial. Generous. Always laughing, always ... bringing joy where he was going. He made the more ... unexpected friendships and ... made the stupidest decisions in the world.” Another cup of wine emptied of a drink. “But he was my treasure, my joy ... my breath ... my breath of fresh air.”
Shi Huan inclined his head, hiding his face behind the tufts of dark hair that fell on his forehead. With trembling hands, he took the cup and drank, hoping to break the knot that Nicholas's words provoked in his throat.
There is always something powerful in a person who undresses their feelings, their pain; but in the case of Nicholas Long it was more than that. For Shi Huan, it was much deeper than that. He had no brothers; however, the loss of his parents had marked his life, his personality, the person he wanted to be for himself and for others. Nicholas was a man who exuded security, power, ambition ... and seeing through the small crack, seeing the vulnerable part of his soul, left a bitter taste on Shi Huan's tongue - a salty taste, like tears without spilling.
"You… love him very much," he said at last. He was going to use the past; but it was clear that Nicholas Long still loved his brother as if he were still by his side. “What happened?”
"I was not able to protect him," the man said harshly. “That happened: I was not able to protect him.”
“I'm sorry. But… ” He frowned, clenching his hands clasped around his glass,“ I don't think it was your fault. Whatever happened, I don't think it was your fault.”
"Believe me, kid: it was. It was my fault. I neglected, I let him... made a mistake, made a decision ... even against my instincts, and that one mistake was enough to ... lose him.”
"It's okay to let people make their own decisions ..."
"Not if they will hurt them. I will not be wrong that way again. My ... love for him prevented me from seeing the truth in time.”
The arrival of the first course prevented the reply of Shi Huan, whose stomach roared shamelessly in view of the flesh and the smell of the sauce.
"I'm sorry," he ventured, wrinkling his nose.
"You haven't eaten anything today, huh?" raised an eyebrow Nicholas Long, his expression lighter than a few seconds before.
"I had ... a busy morning. Your brother…”
"He would have loved what you do. He would have loved to dance and ... help others achieve their dreams. He was ... that naive. So I do it for him, because you remind him to me.”
Shi Huan pressed the chopsticks between his fingers, trying to ignore the disappointed that went from his stomach to his head. Moron! And he throwing himself to kiss the man!
"Thank you, Long-gongzi ...”
“Nicholas. It's fine if you just call me Nicholas. I have lived a long time in America and Europe, so ...”
“I get it. Then ... Nicholas”, he tried to pronounce the name out loud for the first time and almost felt a cramp in the belly when the aforementioned smiled, nodding. “Thanks, Nicholas ... Nick.”
Nicholas raised an eyebrow and shook his head, amused.
"Do you have plans for tomorrow night?"
"Ming Yi is on one of his trips so ..."
"I have tickets for the opera. Ling Wen had ... a last minute commitment and I don't want to waste a seat. Let it be your way of showing me how grateful you are”, the older man ended with a malicious look.
Shi Huan was speechless, being able only to nod like headless chicken for a few seconds.
Shi Huan studied his image in the mirror, half-turning to study the effect of the chosen clothes. With an impatient hiss, he returned to the closet as he pulled out his sweater with a pull that almost ripped it before throwing it to the bed. He searched through the hangers until he found two shirts and placed them on the cover, studying the contrast with the brown jacket. He wanted to look elegant, sophisticated ... the suitable company for Nicholas.
Black pants outlined his rear and hips, almost too provocatively; but that would be hidden later by the jacket. If he could choose the right set.
Shi Huan had never doubted his knowledge or his flair for fashion; however, the possibility of sitting all night with a man who only wore designer suits was getting on his nerves. He felt insecure about his appearance, his hair, the quality of his clothes, his way of speaking and behaving ... He felt like a teenager on his first date.
“It's not a date, Shi Huan”, muttered through clenched teeth. “His brother. You remind him of his little brother.”
Although he had spoken the words to himself, seeking to remember that he had nothing to worry about, his tone had not been as casual as he wanted. He must admit that he was disappointed and a little hurt in his pride. Well, not every day he threw himself on one man and then learned that the other only saw him as the substitute for his dead brother.
Dead. Shi Huan felt a chill traversing from the base of the spine to the neck. How old was Nicholas's brother at death? Nicholas himself was not much older than thirty, so his brother might have died before he turned twenty.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on breathing.
As a child, after his parents’ death, nightmares had been common and Shi Huan used to wake up in a panic in the middle of the night, knowing - above all - that he had no one to turn to. On his own, the boy of that time had developed a ritual of his own creation: breathing, concentrating only on breathing while imagining that he was in a different world, in a world in which he was a powerful being, someone capable of dominating the heavens and the wind, someone who never felt fear.
He pouted when the awkward sensation had passed. He had no idea why thinking about Nicholas's younger brother affected him that way. Perhaps it was that, despite what happened, he still felt attracted to the man.
The sound of a bell forced him out of his distraction to grab his cell phone and see that a message had entered.
He told him that he would be far more than expected, not to spend much time thinking about nonsense and to keep him aware of how everything was going.
Shi Huan bit his lower lip, realizing at that moment that he hadn't told his ‘boyfriend’ that he no longer had to worry about the scholarship.
It would be later, he reflected when he saw the time. He had less than an hour and a half for Nicholas to pick him up and he had not yet chosen what to wear!
Shi Huan left the building and frowned at the sight of an unknown man next to Mr. Long's car.
The stranger was quite young and dressed in dark blue completely, except for the white stripes that adorned the cuffs and the collar of the jacket. He wore dark hair in a low bun on the back of his neck and at first, Shi Huan remembered Yin Yu. However, all resemblance between the stranger and his co-worker disappeared when he noticed the whitened scar next to the corner of his left eye.
"Young Master Shi," said the other, bowing. “Mr. Long apologizes for not being here; but he had a business meeting late in the afternoon ...”
"I'm not going to the opera alone," Shi Huan interrupted, frowning and crossing his arms like a little boy.
"Of course not," the stranger smiled. “My name is Gu Zhi and I will be your driver only until the opera, where Mr. Long will meet you.”
"Are you sure you're really going?" The young man insisted. “It's ... stupid enough to be left alone by ... Well, it's not like it was a date or something like that”, he hastened to clear up, flushing; “but it is ... uncomfortable that the person who invited you doesn’t appear. Besides, I've never been to the opera, so there's no point in going if he doesn't ...”
“Young master Shi, Mr. Long assured me that he would meet you at the theater. You should not worry: my lord always keeps his word.”
Shi Huan bit his lower lip while playing with the buttons on his jacket. What if he didn't arrive? He didn't want to watch the opera alone ... he did want to go to the opera, of course: he had never been able to go to the opera! But he wanted to go with Nicholas, not alone.
“Whatever”, he finally muttered and walked toward the car.
Gu Zhi hurried to open the back door of the car and invite the young man with a gesture to take a seat.
Shi Huan grimaced as he sat down. His hand touched something and when he looked down, he snorted annoyed: it was his ticket to the opera.
Sitting in the box, Shi Huan looked around. The show was about to start and no sign of Nicholas Long. With a furious grimace, he unbuttoned his jacket, flipping a lapel aside.
In the end, he had chosen a light blue suit, combined with a white shirt and black bow tie. He wore the upper half of the hair collected in the back in a folded ponytail and the rest loose on his shoulders. He had even taken the job of applying some makeup, accentuating his eyes and touching his lips.
He leaned forward, looking toward the access halls, still hoping that Nicholas would arrive before the start of the show. He sighed and extending a hand, took the glass of champagne that Gu Zhi left next to him before retiring with a bow worthy of martial arts film.
"Don't get drunk before the show begins."
Shi Huan turned to look at the man who had just entered the box and was petrified, with the cup a few millimeters from his lips.
Nicholas Long had changed his European style to a more traditional one. The dark blue qipao was embroidered with silver dragons. He wore white pants and two-tone shoes.
He took the chair to the left of the young man and turning to him, he removed the piping cup to return it to the table.
"Too early to drink," he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Your ... driver left it there for me," Shi Huan explained, twisting his mouth.
"I ordered him to guarantee your comfort until my arrival."
“It’s everything fin?” The young man ventured. “He ... Gu Zhi said you had a business meeting already late and ...”
"Very inappropriate nonsense. Everything went ... to my liking. How did it go in college today?”
"We ... Today Professor Mei guided the course work, the ... final evaluation. We must -we must design a choreography and dance it.”
"Will it be your first time doing something like that?" Asked Nicholas, watching him with interest as he retrieved the cup that Shi Huan almost drank a moment before.
Shi Huan watched the journey of the cup to Nicholas's lips and raised an eyebrow.
"Isn't it too early to drink?"
Nicholas raised an eyebrow.
"I have long since stopped being a minor."
“I am not…”
Nicholas put a finger to his lips, ordering him silence, at the same moment the lights went out.
The music started and Shi Huan turned his face to the stage, snorting between his teeth.
A light came on, illuminating one end of the stage and a man dressed in red entered, carrying a huge curved sword.
Shi Huan frowned when the man was joined by two other male characters: one wore blue and wore a horsehair brush while the second wore black and carried some scrolls.
“What is the name of the opera?” Shi Huan asked, leaning toward Nicholas's seat.
"You come to see the opera and you didn't even ask what you would see."
"You invited me: you're supposed to inform me of everything."
"It is amazing how easily you have gone from behaving with me as a disciple with their teacher to behaving as my spoiled brother."
“I am not…”
“The Lady of the Wind’s fan.”
“The opera. It's called ‘The Lady of the Wind’s fan’.”
Shi Huan turned to look at the stage, where the three characters continued their journey through what appeared to be an enchanted forest since nymphs had just emerged from the trees.
"I don't see any ‘ lady of the wind’. Unless it's one of those flowery nymphs.”
"No, she hasn't come out yet. It's ... a fairly recent piece. As I understand it, the author rescued a local legend of the town in which he was born, on the continent.”
"And ... the argument?"
“It's quite simple. Wait: I like to see the General trying to seduce the nymphs.”
Nicholas indicated with a gesture that he returned his attention to the stage. Shi Huan saw the red character dancing among the nymphs, trying to catch some. His companions watched him with disinterest, laughing every time one of the immortals evaded his hands with agile movements.
Finally, the General's attempts were interrupted by the appearance of a lady dressed in heavy silver ornaments and lilac dress. The new character turned out to be the queen of the forest, known as the Rain Princess and the General was enchanted by her silent beauty. The woman invited them to enjoy her hospitality and it was then that the three travelers informed the lady that they were on a mission commissioned by the Celestial Emperor: to recover the Fan of Storms.
"Didn't you say it was the Lady of the Wind’s fan?" the young man questioned, leaning closer to his companion.
"Why can't it be both?" was Nicholas's answer, also in a whisper.
"Aren't ladies supposed to be sweet and restrained?"
"Not the Lady of the Wind."
Shi Huan thought he sensed the smile in his voice and turned to him.
Nicholas put his index finger on his chin and forced him to look back at the play.
Shi Huan felt the heat rise to his face and concentrate on the point that Nicholas's finger touched. With all his being, he tried to concentrate on opera; but he was still too aware of the other man's closeness, of the fluid movement with which he reached the cup and drank slowly.
After a moment, he managed to understand that the General's companions were Master Ling of Palace of Literature and Lord of Water Shi.
“Shi?” repeated the young man, turning once more towards his companion. “Shi ?! Seriously?”
"You share a surname with the Lord of Water," Nicholas commented mockingly. “You are famous, young master Shi.”
“Did you know?”
"I may have heard this story before," the man admitted. “Champagne?”
"Isn't it too early for me?"
In the darkness, he reached out for the cup; but he found some fingers that caught his. Almost immediately, Nicholas guided his hand to the cup, making sure he held it firmly before letting go. Shi Huan held the drink with both hands, without drinking, just feeling the tingling in his fingers. With an effort, he breathed several times, repeating his relaxation ritual, before he could take a sip.
It was then that he managed to concentrate back on the play. The three men had already continued their journey - after the General promised to return to marry the Rain Princess - and went in search of the famous fan, following the lady's instructions. While traveling, Master Ling found a moment to consult his scrolls and declare that the fan was supposed to control all the winds in the world and that the last time that was heard about it, it was in the possession of a monster that lived on an island in the confines of the kingdom. He also mentioned that the fan had a secret without specifying which. Somehow, at that time the public was also informed that the Celestial Emperor had decided that it was time for the Lord of Water to marry and he had convinced the sovereign to allow him to accompany the General on this mission before electing his wife.
"What does that have to do now?" Asked Shi Huan, frowning. “Is you going to give the fan to the bride and turn her into ‘Lady of the Wind’?”
Nicholas settled in his seat.
"It would be a logical end to these kinds of stories," he agreed.
"I thought the Water Lord had an affair with Master Ling," the young man muttered.
The older man let out something like a laugh, which ended up covering his mouth with his hand.
"Ridiculous," he said after a moment.
"Why would it be ridiculous? Were there no gay heroes?”
"Ridiculous because everyone knows that the Lord of Water is married to the Lady of the Wind."
Shi Huan frowned at the calm response. An unexpected feeling of ... certainty descended from his chest to his belly, heavy.
"I didn't know," he objected without much conviction, looking back at the show.
"Have you thought about what you will do the choreography?"
Shi Huan was surprised by the question. Nicholas seemed interested in maintaining the conversation, distracting him from the play.
"Not yet," he denied, shaking his head. “We must have a theme. Don't dance just for dancing and -I'm not good at telling stories or ... transmitting deep messages. I am more of listening to a song and let the rhythm carry me.”
"Maybe tonight will help you get an idea."
"I can't mount an opera."
"You can tell a story with a dance. All traditional dances do it.”
“Stories of war, of romance, of…”
"Of seduction, of hatred, of revenge, of betrayal ... of hope."
In the darkness, Shi Huan had turned to him and saw the glow of his dark eyes. As a moment before, that feeling of certainty became heavy in his stomach: Nicholas was telling him something.
He held his breath when the man leaned toward him.
"You're going to miss the best part," Nicholas whispered and gestured at the front.
Shi Huan turned his face and saw that they reached the final part of the play. The Water Lord Shi faced the monster and destroyed it with his spiritual powers, after the General and Master Ling were injured. Once defeated the demon, the Lord of Water found the Fan of the Storms: as soon as he touched it, a pink smoke burst and on the stage a lady dressed in blue and silver appeared.
"The Lady of the Wind, I suppose," Shi Huan murmured. “That was the secret of the fan.”
"She has been trapped there for centuries and the Lord of Water released her ... because only her true love could give her freedom," Nicholas explained near his ear. “They ... are destined.”
Shi Huan stopped watching the stage and the actors - he didn't even listen to the song of the Lady of the Wind. His entire person concentrated on the tingling that Nicholas Long's breath produced in the shell of his ear. He thought about how simple it would be to turn his head and kiss him again, to feel again the warmth of his mouth, the sinuousness of his tongue. He could kiss him ... after all, that was what they both wanted, what he had been waiting for all that time – so… much ... time!
"Destined," he repeated as in a trance while for the third time in 24 hours he performed his breathing ritual.
Nicholas watched Shi Huan lower his eyelids and concentrate on breathing. His gaze stopped on parted lips before returning to the stage, where the Lady of the Wind danced, unable to imitate a tenth of Feng Shi Niang Niang's grace - his Feng Shi Niang Niang.
* Feng Shi Niang Niang: Lady Master of Wind.
Hello to all the followers of this story - there are not many; but they make my life so much better! I just stopped by to inform you that we will have some chapters in which the boys will approach, meet ... and burn slowly.
Regarding opera: of course I invented that story just to make Shi Huan a little awkward. In the opera, however, I left a clue of the couple that is still missing in the story: have you already guessed which one?
See you soon.
Ban Yue stood on the tips of her feet to watch through the window outside. With a sigh, she returned to hers position with the rest of her colleagues, with her shoulders low.
"It's still raining," she said.
"It has been like this for two days," Song Xia snorted. “Two days without customers. Two days without work.”
"Two days looking at each other's faces," Shi Huan murmured and throwing his head back, he watched the ceiling for a few seconds. “When was the last time it rained this way?”
"Before my parents were born," the older girl grumbled. “And I remind you that I was their last attempt to get an heir at forty.”
"Will it continue like this for much more? Did you see anything on TV? In some place? What does that hot girl of time say?”
"The one with the big tits?" Ban Yue pursed her nose. “She doesn't even know where the northwest is when she is going to say the wind direction.”
"Maybe we shouldn't open until this storm passes," Song Xia proposed.
"I agree," Shi Huan nodded emphatically.
“All right! Now go tell Mr. Chu.”
“Me? Why me?”
"Because Mr. Chu loves you. Now, smart boy, go tell him ...”
"Mr. Chu says to go home, fellows."
Yin Yu made the announcement while entering the room.
“Are you serious?” Ban Yue jumped, going towards him with rabbit hops. “Are you serious, Master Yin?”
"Of course I mean it, Shi-mei. Mr. Chu is a little ... tired and has decided to close for tonight. If the rain continues, it won't open tomorrow, so ...”
"We have extra rest."
“It's not fair!” Shi Huan complained. “Tomorrow is my day off. I will not have extra rest!”
"You better hurry up now so you can take advantage of the night."
"I have to get to the subway with this torrential."
"You can stay in the apartment with us," Ban Yue suggested. “Li Mei and Wang Fei are at Wang-jiejie's parents' house.”
"You can sleep on the couch," Song Xia agreed magnanimously.
"I don't want to sleep on the couch! I want an extra day off!”
Half an hour later, as they left the building, Shi Huan kept claiming his extra rest, telling Song Xia that, as shift manager, it was his obligation to give him one more day of rest. The girl pretended not to listen to him and Ban Yue reiterated her offer to stay in the apartment the girls shared. The young man opened his umbrella, still grumbling, when they went outside.
"I deserve one more day like everyone else!"
"You already had it when you went out to dinner with your boyfriend," Song Xia reminded him.
"I didn't have another day to go out with Ming Yi, and that was almost a month ago! I just changed my turn.”
"I don't think you'll need our sofa, gege," Ban Yue sang, who had hung on her friend's arm to take refuge under the huge red umbrella.
“What are you…?”
Shi Huan interrupted his words when he saw the dark blue car and the man standing next to it.
"Wow, A-Huan," Song Xia whistled under her breath. “You do have a good grip on that man.”
"It's not ... Nicholas and I aren't ... he doesn't ... you know what? I am not going to tell you anything: you are a bad friend and a worse boss, Song Xia. And now, I'm going to go home in that magnificent car, warm and comfortable, while you run to your house.”
"We live across the street," Song Xia reminded him.
"Have a good night, Huan-gege!" Ban Yue shouted when the young man walked away, crossing the street to the other man.
Nicholas held a dark, carved wooden handle umbrella. When Shi Huan turned to him, the man glanced at the girls and raised an eyebrow when the shorter one bowed her head in respect. Immediately, his attention returned to the young man who stopped in front of him, protecting himself from the downpour with his patterned umbrella.
"Hey," said Shi Huan.
"You closed early," Nicholas said.
"Did you come to dinner? Mr. Chu had one of his arthritis crises ... because of the humidity, and closed earlier. There were no customers either, so ... Have you eaten yet? There must be some place open despite the rain.”
"Are you inviting me to dinner?"
Shi Huan almost drowned with his own saliva. After a moment, he managed to shrug.
"Only if you agree to eat noodles because right now my capital should not give for much more."
"Are you going to cook them? You know how to cook?” He frowned as if the possibility were madness.
"And very well, huh ?!" exclaimed the young man, offended.
Nicholas Long raised an eyebrow, no doubt amused by the boy's belligerent attitude.
"Another day you show me," he said at last. “I just came to make sure you don't catch a cold.”
“Well, thank you…”
"I need you tomorrow night."
“Get in the car. I take you home and explain you along the way.”
"But, I'm going to wet the car and ... I'm talking to myself again," he concluded in a murmur when Nicholas got into the car and closed the door, waiting for me to imitate him.
Shi Huan circled the car and obeyed at last, securing the belt before Nicholas had time to remind him.
"Did you say you need me tomorrow?" he asked when they were on their way.
"I have dinner ... do you remember the parents of the girl from that party? Well, they have an older daughter, who lives in France and is divorced. Lyla ... that's the name of the young woman, she returned to her younger sister's engagement party and has been trying to include me in family plans since then. I have been invited to the inauguration of a gourmet restaurant tomorrow night. I know that Lyla is going to be present, with her parents, and I don't want to see myself in the obligation to make her have a bad time: I have important business with her father.”
"You could just go out with her," Shi Huan suggested, staring at the street.
"I'm not going to approach a woman who doesn't interest me just to keep me in good standing with her father," Nicholas replied dismissively.
“What? Isn't she pretty? I thought that a woman who lives in Europe would be the most suitable for someone like you.”
“Someone like me?” the man repeated, giving him a sidelong glance.
“So-phisticated. A sophisticated man, mundane. You've ... traveled and met other places, other cultures ... It's different out there. People are different and you ...”
“Would you like to travel? Go to Europe? To America?”
"It's ... one of the reasons I want to become a dancer and be ... famous."
"You can travel on your vacation. They will be in little more than a month, right? I can fix everything on time ...”
"Idontwantyoutopaymeatrip," Shi Huan released at once, clenching his hands around his belt.
"Diction, kid. Modulate the words if you want me to understand what you say”, ordered Nicholas Long without looking away from the front. “And of course your two companions would go on that trip. It would be part of your preparation as future members of my company.”
"Of ... of course," the young man nodded, closing his eyes tightly.
In spite of everything, he kept screwing up every time he was close to this man.
"So you want me to ... accompany you to that dinner?" He resumed the subject with an effort. Nicholas nodded. “Why don't you invite your friend? Ling Wen, right? She is beautiful enough to take any other woman away.”
"Ling Wen has her own life. In addition, I want you to be with me.”
Shi Huan bit the corner of his lower lip, trying hard to ignore the hysterical flutter that butterflies mounted on his stomach.
"You didn't need to go to the restaurant just to invite me -to ask me to help you. You could call.”
"I didn't find it convenient to call your workplace and ask to speak with you. It could give wrong ideas to your workmates, as you suggested on one occasion.”
The young man almost told him that appearing to wait for him in his car had the same effect.
"On the other hand, I don't have your number. How could I call you?”
“Oh! True! What stupidity of mine!” Shi Huan laughed. “I haven’t given you my number. Do you write it down? Or ... well, can you give me where to write it down?”
He finished asking at the same time that the other man's cell phone landed on his lap: Nicholas had reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the phone to throw it gently. Undecided, Shi Huan took the cell phone and turned it on.
"Ask ... ask for a password," he said quietly.
Shi Huan nodded once he had dialed the password. His gaze stopped barely on the screen - the image of a rugged landscape whose central point was occupied by a ruined temple - and proceeded to save his number in the contact book, ignoring the few names that were saved ... Gu Zhi? ... Xuan Ji? ... Mu Qing? ... Friends? Partners? Employees?
"There," he announced, handing him back his cell phone.
“Save my number.
"Uh ... yes," Shi Huan nodded, returning to the phone to dial himself. “Ok now. It is done. What time will that dinner be tomorrow?”
"I'll come pick you up at seven," Nicholas reported as he braked in front of his building.
"Any specific indication to wear? Or just elegant?”
"I would like you to use something more traditional," the man suggested while storing the cell phone.
"Mhm ... I don't usually wear ... What's that?" he shrieked with his eyes fixed on the blue and gold card that the other held out, holding it between two fingers.
"A credit card," Nicholas raised an eyebrow.
"I know it's a credit card!" Shi Huan shrieked again. “I want to know why you give it to me!”
"So you buy ‘something more traditional’. Mr. Li's shop is two blocks from your job: they make custom qipaos; but they also have some ready for occasions like this. Light blue suits you.”
"I'm not going to buy ... you're not going to buy me clothes! And don't even say that my colleagues will receive the same treatment because ...!”
"I have no reason to give clothes to your friends."
"Neither to me."
"You will be my companion tomorrow and I want you to look in a specific way. Just accept it, Shi Huan”, he ordered in a more serious tone than usual. “It is not going to be an easy day tomorrow. Not for me. Tomorrow ... is the anniversary of ... an important moment in my brother's life.”
“Ah. I... understand”, the young man muttered, bowing his head. “It's okay. I will buy those clothes. For this time. But I don't want any more presents. Although ... although I remind you of him, I am not your younger brother, Nicholas, so ... these attentions could ... be misunderstood.”
"For your boyfriend?"
Looking down, Shi Huan did not perceive the flash that crossed the man's dark eyes.
"No," he shook his head. “He is not ... Ming-xiong is not ... jealous. Not like that. In addition, our relationship is less ... formal than I ... I made you understand before.”
They were silent for a few minutes. After all, Shi Huan looked up and looked through the window.
"It seems to rain less now," he said. “Maybe the Water Tyrant took pity on us.”
“Who?” Nicholas frowned.
Shi Huan looked at him, smiling playfully.
“The Water Tyrant. I’ve been reading, you know? After the opera: you talked about the Lord of Water and the Lady of the Wind as if it were a story that everyone knows and –I wanted to investigate. I would like to do my choreography about them. I read in an article that the Water Lord was called the Water Tyrant and that he was very revered by the people. In addition, he was considered the richest god in heaven. What luck for the Lady of the Wind, right?”
“Definitely. Can you reach the building on your own feet or do I have to carry you in my arms?”
Shi Huan grimaced at the abrupt change of subject.
"No one has carried me in arms since I was a baby and I am not going to start tonight for a little water," he grumbled as he released the belt and opened the door.
Nicholas grabbed him by the elbow.
"The card," he reminded him.
The boy grabbed the piece of plastic and put it in his pocket.
"See you tomorrow," Nicholas insisted. “At seven. Remember that the blue sky combines with you.”
"Yes, gege!" Shi Huan hummed imitating the tone of a small child before jumping out of the car and running to the building.
In his haste, Shi Huan did not realize that Nicholas Long had frozen to hear his answer. The man's dark eyes followed the young man until he disappeared inside the building and then dropped his head against the back of the seat, lowering his eyelids. In his mind, Shi Huan's words resounded - yes, gege - pronounced in such dissimilar tones, in so many different situations ... that for a second, his heart beat again as when he was alive.
Shao Jun Qing Jiu.**
A female voice broke into his thoughts. Nicholas growled silently and banished the memories to the depths of his mind.
Ling Wen, he responded coldly.
Where are you, Shi WuDu?
In Hong Kong. Where else will I be?
It is raining a lot over there. Are you ok?
I remind you that I became a demon, not a mortal. A little rain is not a problem for me.
I didn't suggest that the rain caused you problems, she replied calmly. Are you causing this rain, Shi-xiong?
He did not respond at the moment, looking back at the door of the building before looking up and focusing his attention on a window on the fourth floor, where the lights had just come on.
Would it be a very big problem if it was my fault?
Well, someone could have something to say. Yu Shi Huang, for example.
She is too smart and … kind enough to say something.
Not so her husband. Who you didn’t want to see, by the way.
Whatever, the man sighed, closing his eyes.
I know. Tomorrow is not a good day; but you have to be more careful. You have been here for so long without attracting attention and in a few days you have stirred the world …
Just Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not the world.
I don't want to sound paranoid; but believe me when I tell you that what happens in China does not stay in China. We are fashionable, my friend, and that includes rediscovering old legends. Like that of the Water Tyrant and the Lady of the Wind.
Really? He smiled.
You know. That opera has caused a stir and there are ... young people looking for information. And not only young. The networks are full of searches about them and I have half of my officers working to divert attention. Do you really want so many eyes on yourself right now?
Are they going to revere me? Will that give me more power?
Ling Wen was silent for a few seconds.
You know how this works: the more people believe in you, the more powerful you will be. It is the same if you are a god or a demon.
Then let them know. Let the world know that I am here.
Shi WuDu ...
I have to go, shi-mei. I've been parked for a while at a not very convenient point.
What will you do tomorrow? She released quickly. Do you want company?
I already have plans.
Ah. I should have guessed, it was obvious that she was smiling. Have you ever wondered if he would be able to remember? Tomorrow is the anniversary of his ascension and he will be with you.
Shi Huan is not ... the same as he was before.
Neither you. And here you are, making a natural disaster to ventilate your emotions. Just like three millennia ago. What are you going to give him?
Good evening, Ling Wen.
He cut the communication. He started the car; but before leaving, he paused a moment to slide a hand under his shirt, stroking the gold medallion, the same that was forged from his brother's golden core millennia ago.
Shi Huan stretched his neck to watch Nicholas's car drive away. Why had he remained so long at the foot of the building? Sure he was talking on the phone, he said moving away from the window.
He dropped into bed and reached out to grab the credit card and hold it in front of his face. Why did he still feel that Nicholas had invented that excuse that reminded him of his younger brother? Why did he still feel that it wasn't ... normal for Nichols to see him just as a brother?
**Young man pouring wine.
Yes, dear friends, Nicholas has a passwords his brother's names in past life. He really misses him.