The city is bustling. People yelling, clopping hives, squeezing wheels, the stench of sweat and dirt exasperated by the heat of the sun. Liu Mingyan has always enjoyed the city. Liu Qingge could care less. He avoids cities at all costs. Forgoing even supplies or doctors when on missions. Cities meant people which led to too many questions and words and staring.
Sure he didn’t care.
But even he was not fully immune to the staring. As if he was a bird in a cage.
His skin itched.
“What about this?” Liu Mingyan held up a flower pressed bookmark.
Liu Qingge considered it because otherwise his thoughts seemed determined to sink down and dwell about topics he constantly tried to drown out. The flower was too yellow, a small tear in one of the pedals. Not good enough. Not what he wanted.
Qinglong would hate it. Although he liked watching the boy’s feathers ruffled, he did not want his returning present to have that effect.
It continued the same. She held up items for him to inspect only for him to reject each one. They stopped for a meal after noon, well, she ate and he refused to put anything so sweet into his mouth. Adult men did not like sweets, they were supposed to eat bitter and spicy food, both of which Liu Qingge did not prefer. It just was. So he settled for watching his sister eat, enjoying it with her.
“A weapon?” Liu Mingyan suggested.
They squirreled themselves in a corner, her back his. She faced the wall and ate as he faced the world around them and glared at anyone daring to even glance in their direction. He felt his sister chew then swallow. Her heartbeat steady and pressed against him. When they stopped hugging, when he was told to stop carrying her around everywhere. The only touch of contact they had was this. Warm.
“Why not,” he relented.
Liu Mingyan finished her overly sweet treat, drank the tea provided at the restaurant and they stepped back outside into the bustling crowd. She followed after him this time. He led her to three weapon shops until he found it.
Cracking the slender short whip in his hand, Liu Qingge tested out the leather and strength of the weapon. It was sturdy. He liked it. Easy to wrap around Qinglong’s slender waist. Easy to use as a long distance or close proximity rope for defense. He’d teach the boy both methods. They needed to be safe.
He refused to even consider why it mattered to him that two boys he’d only know for a month were safe.
Instead he bought his sister another hair-pin dagger. She accepted his gift without protest. Used to his type of worry and acts of care.
“Thank you,” Liu Mingyan said. The only weapon on her body he hadn’t bought her was her sword.
One present paid for, they continued wondering. His sister stopped him to buy jars of oil. Special oil she insisted he buy at the perfume shop. The woman behind the counter blushed and bit her lip but did not giggle.
He missed something.
“This way,” his sister quickly dragged him from the shop with a hand on his elbow. A touch she rarely gave him and he expected her to drop his arm when they reached the street. She kept her hand on his elbow and he slowed his pace to match hers prolonging the contact neither mentioned.
An entire day spent at the market with his sister, Liu Qingge had been unable to locate the perfect gift for Luo Yuan who’s smile and touch made his stomach heave. At first he’d thought it to be revulsion but after sometime understood it to be nerves. He wanted the family to like him, in a way he’d never cared about before.
“Expect a letter,” Liu Qingge told his sister the day he left.
She nodded and swayed on her feet. Liu Qingge glanced around, sharp eyes searching the empty area for hidden enemies. No one. Gathering his courage, Liu Qingge surged forward and wrapped his arms around his sisters shoulders. Holding her close. Slowly she wrapped his own arms around his, hiding her face in his neck. The fluttering of her veil from every breath she took ticked his skin. Releasing her, ears red, he patted her shoulder once and turned on his heels, embarrassed and warm.
Liu Mingyan didn’t question or call him back. But the imprint of her smile on his skin lasted until he flew to Hua Huan Palace.
Then the headache began.