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Coiled Feelings

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“It’s good for health.”

 

Shen QingQiu looks up at his Shidi’s arrival. Liu QingGe sets two bottles of wine on the table he was reading at.

 

“Wine?” he asks, scrunching up his brows.

 

“Snake wine,” Liu QingGe explains and sits down.

 

“Snake wine. Where did you get it this time?” he asks as he nudges a plate of mung bean cakes towards his companion. Shen QingQiu of course, is not asking the question as if Liu QingGe often brought him snake wine, but probing the tales of the troubles he went through to obtain the many gifts Shen QingQiu received. His manners had been worn blunt by how often Liu QingGe sent him gifts, and he no longer played the role of overt politeness.

 

Liu QingGe bites down on a cake and tries to elaborate his tale for Shen QingQiu’s sake. Hunted down a thousand year jay for a medicinal business family becomes an established family in the North requested the help of cultivators to help take down a beast haunting the stone mountain paths encircling their town; in return for Liu QingGe slaying the beast, the family offered items from their trove of medicine and more details. And as per experience, he knows the sparkle in Shen QingQiu’s eyes signals his interest in the conversation. Tea is poured, thirst is quenched, banter is exchanged. Liu QingGe finds a smile on his face without his knowing.

 

“Ah— Shidi, wine tastes better with company. Would you care to drink with me tonight? I’m afraid I need to finish up the balances and mission reports for this month now, but after that I should be free.”

 

Liu QingGe nodded. “After sunset?”

 

“After sunset.”

 

Shen QingQiu spends the evening immersed in work, shuffling accounting booklets and writing invoices while Luo BingHe runs to and fro shuttling tea and empty cups back and forth. When he looks up again, the sky is already painted in strokes of pink and yellow. Just as the last report is sent and all balances are counted for, Liu QingGe pushes open the door and steps through.

 

“Shidi, do you have a women’s intuition? Your sense of timing is too good. Sit, sit.” Shen QingQiu stands as Liu QingGe sits. He returns to table and sets down two cups while elbowing stacks of paper out of the way. A few sheets drift away, and Liu QingGe snatches them out of the air.

 

“Be more organized Shen QingQiu.” Liu QingGe admonishes.

 

“Alright, alright.” Shen QingQiu laughs as he pours a cup for Liu QingGe and another for himself.

 

“Did you know, Shidi, that this one has never had medicinal wine before?”

 

Liu QingGe gives him a knowing look. “I don’t doubt it. You don’t allow bitter things within a room with you.”

 

The wine hits the tongue medicinal and savoury and goes down burning. Shen QingQiu almost spits it out. When he’s no longer grimacing, he sees Liu QingGe sporting a smirk.

 

“Too strong for your tastes Shixiong?”

 

Shen QingQiu glares. The oil lamp burns low.

 

“Not barely enough for me Shidi. Another cup?” on the inside, Shen QingQiu was dying of the bad aftertaste and regretting every word out of his mouth. However, Liu QingGe’s expression was irritatingly good looking, and Shen QingQiu wants to keep admiring it because he will definitely inevitably lose to Liu QingGe if they hold a drinking contest.

 

“Hmph. You wouldn’t be a good drinking partner if you couldn’t handle at least this much. What have your students been up to?”

 

The summer air still clings to their skin, but a breeze is blowing and the wine is good. Shen QingQiu eagerly shares a recent story involving Ming Fan, calligraphy homework in the wind, and cranes. Their chatter continues until the light burns out, uncharacteristically late for Liu QingGe, but nothing abnormal for the two of them together.

 

Shen QingQiu and Liu QingGe drunken, heads on the table, are both half asleep.

 

Liu QingGe mutters, “Hey, Shen QingQiu, I,” he pauses. His eyes squeeze shut in hesitation and flutter open with effort. “I like, love you.”

 

Shen QingQiu is aware that those words held some significance, but he feels too drowsy to think, so he feels around his chest for his feelings and replies, “Same Shidi, same.” Neither hears the gasp and scampering feet behind the doors as they doze off, unaware of their confessions.