Jing Lin stared at Cang Ji until Cang Ji felt a gust of chill on his back. He almost suspected that Jing Lin had heard his words earlier. But Jing Lin merely stared at him for a moment before covering himself back with the book again. Cang Ji touched his chest with his heart still thumping.
Glows of light were floating all over the courtyard by the time the sky had completely darkened. Le Yan headed back in to feed Chu Lun his medicine. Both of them spoke in whispers. Cang Ji could not hear the details clearly, but he knew that their conversation was something an outsider like him was not privy to. So he benevolently released the grass spirit and grabbed the little stone figure to get off the roof to look for Jing Lin.
Jing Lin was wearing a deep azure blue wide-sleeved outfit today. His wrists, along with those long, slender fingers, were all laid bare in the night, stirring up the crickets among the grasses. The book covered his face but exposed his neck in full view. The graceful contours of his neck lay wedged and hidden between those tightly fastened collars, with the deep azure blue and sleek white complementing each other. It aroused in one a desire to delve further far more than if he had bared it all.
Cang Ji pulled over the rattan chair with his fingers. It soundlessly expanded to twice its size. He rolled over to get on it. Putting his arms under his head, he immersed himself in Jing Lin’s scent. However, he was pretty tall, so it was still a squeeze even though the rattan chain was twice as large. His shoulders, arms, and legs were all pressing up against Jing Lin.
Both men were silent for a moment when Cang Ji suddenly asked, “Could the way I’m relying on you be like that of a fledgling seeing you as its mother?”
Under the cover of the book, Jing Lin kicked him. Cang Ji let loose a laugh and picked up the book on Jing Lin’s face. Flipping through it casually, he said, “Aren’t you afraid of leaving ink on your face by covering it with this wordy thing… there’s really ink left behind.”
Jing Lin was about to get up when Cang Ji pressed down on his shoulders and leaned over to scrutinize his face. Spouting nonsense, he said, “Half your face is so gaudy with ink now. Touch it if you don’t believe me.”
Jing Lin touched his cheek in a daze. Cang Ji frowned and said, “Not here. I’ll show you.” With that, he took Jing Lin’s hand and stroked Jing Lin’s cheek with his index finger on Jing Lin’s index finger. He said while feeling him, “I’ll wipe it off for you.”
The tip of Cang Ji’s finger pressed down a little harder on Jing Lin’s cheek, rubbing it until it left red marks behind. Jing Lin looked at him. Cang Ji’s reflection squeezed its way into Jing Lin’s eyes until the latter’s eyes could contain nothing else. Cang Ji smiled as he scrubbed. When he was done, he even refused to show Jing Lin. Instead, he pulled out a handkerchief and moved behind Jing Lin to pretend to wipe his hands. Jing Lin’s cheeks had gone hot from the rubs. The more expressionless he was, the more Cang Ji felt that this kind of teasing only served to make his heart ache and swell with love even more.
Heart ache? Love?
Cang Ji could not figure it out. So he merely laughed at himself and thought that he must have really seen Jing Lin as his mother.
Mosquitoes were aplenty on summer nights, buzzing around the lanterns so ceaselessly to the point they were irksome. Chu Lun and Le Yan seemed to be asleep in the room. It was somehow so restless in the courtyard that even the fireflies were an eyesore.
Cang Ji got what he wanted, but he had also broken out in a sweat. Pulling his collar, he asked Jing Lin, “Aren’t you hot to fasten your collar that tightly?”
The little pillow under Jing Lin’s nape had gone crooked from all the squeezing. He righted it and replied, “No.”
Cang Ji puffed out a mouthful of air into the gaps of Jing Lin’s collar and said, “A portion has already been soaked through with sweat.”
Jing Lin was slow on the uptake as he touched his neck, only to realize he had not sweated at all. Cang Ji leaned over to sprawl on the chair and said to Jing Lin, “Cool me down. It’s a hot day. I’m all out of shape due to dehydration. I feel so weak.”
Jing Lin said, “You’re hot, and you still want to crowd in here?”
Cang Ji turned his head sideways and said, “I’m still a baby fish. It’s only normal that I can’t leave you.”
Jing Lin could not help but kick him again. Cang Ji burst out laughing. His shoulders and arms looked well-built even when he was lying down. His laughter grew lazier; his eyes were already half-closing.
“Come to think of it now,” Cang Ji was so tired that he yawned repeatedly. “It has only been half a year. Yet the times in the mountain seemed to be a thing of the past. There’s so much that I can no longer remember.”
“Once you’ve lived even longer,” Leaning back to enjoy the clear breeze brushing across his face, Jing Lin continued, “There will be more you can’t remember.”
Cang Ji did not answer, as if he had fallen asleep.
As Jing Lin enjoyed the night breeze, he felt his eyelids growing heavy. He opened his eyes feebly and saw that the lanterns under the eaves had gone out. The derelict courtyard was once again shrouded in the moonlight with the fireflies perched on the grasses. Jing Lin closed his eyes too, and silence descended around him. It was as if everything around them were deep in slumber.
A moment later, a shadow from outside the courtyard infiltrated its way in. The new arrival was as light as a feather as he stepped among the grass and moved soundlessly among them. Like a ghost, he made his way to the door where it opened all by itself. Le Yan was sleeping soundly inside. The person summoned out a rope and made a few gestures, intending to tie him up.
The grass spirit crashed against the door plank and raised both arms to let loose a shrill scream. Its scream sent the fireflies flying all over and past the person’s face. He swiftly raised his sleeves to cover his face and kicked away the grass spirit in a rage.
The grass spirit rolled once on the steps and fell onto the ground with a “thud”. Having bound Le Yan, the person rushed out of the door. He did not expect the grass in the courtyard to grow instantly at an insane speed, intertwining and surging forth like threads of hair to surround the entire courtyard until it was impenetrable.
The person said crossly, “How dare you get in my way! I’ll stab your eyes!”
He struck at the grass with a palm until they swelled outwards. But they were interwoven so firmly that there was no gap for him to make his way out. He raised his foot to flip over Le Yan’s little stool and watched as the stool overturned and hurtled towards the grass spirit in an attack. With a flower bud on the grass spirit’s head, it turned around to flee. It blindly climbed into the rattan chair and, without letting up, charged over to hide itself in the empty space between Cang Ji and Jing Lin.
Cang Ji immediately opened his eyes when he felt an itch on his back. The rattan chair beneath him felt as if it had plunged into the sea as it floated like a boat among the waves of grass. He backhandedly picked up the grass spirit before the next wave made him dizzy.
When the person saw that the grass had thoroughly encased the entire courtyard, he flicked his sleeves to make a seal with his hands. A golden pattern speedily winded its way around him and charged towards the rattan chair.
Cang Ji rolled over and bumped into Jing Lin. With his head hurting, he said, “Stop swaying it! Your granddaddy is seasick!”
All the grass spirit cared for at present was to scream. How would it give a hoot about what he was saying? With a “swoosh”, the rattan chair swished along with the waves among the sea of grass. Cang Ji almost barfed his guts out.
“Help!” Cang Ji yelled at Jing Lin. “Jing… feel like puking…”
Jing Lin had already woken up from all that shaking. With one hand, he covered Cang Ji’s mouth and nose. His legs swept across the sea of grass as he rolled over and sat up. The whole rattan chair instantly stabilized. He propped up Cang Ji’s upper body, but before he could continue, he sensed the golden pattern lunging towards them in an attack like an impending rainstorm. The startled grass spirit nearly sent the rattan chair, which had only just stabilized, toppling over. Cang Ji’s face had gone all white. Amidst all the shaking, he fell over and crushed Jing Lin beneath him. The grass overhead surged downward in a frenzy to cocoon them close together.
The grass spirit was already scared out of its wits. Grass indiscriminately surged all over and tightened its hold over the wall so hard that it cracked. It also bound Jing Lin so tightly that he could not breathe. Cang Ji was atop him, pinning him down. The grass swaddled him so tightly that he was pressed up against Cang Ji.
“You…” Cang Ji had yet to let out a curse when he felt Jing Lin being stuffed deeper into his arms. This time, they were both truly lying together in each other’s embrace.
Jing Lin was bound so tightly he was in pain. The sound of the breath he sucked in was buried in Cang Ji’s neck, while the hot breath he exhaled made Cang Ji’s neck tingled with numbness and his scalp itched. Cang Ji wanted to turn away his head, as did Jing Lin. Both of their faces rubbed against each other, and Jing Lin felt a warmth on his lips. The shock hit him like a truck. Immediately right after, that warmth moved to say something, but it only resulted in the intertwining and fusing of their lips.
Cang Ji was panting in his throat. His sweat trickled down his temples and seeped into the collar on Jing Lin’s neck. His palms felt as if he was kneading a ball of snow. He could sense his own rush of heat catalyzing the other party. It melted Jing Lin into nothing more than a puddle of water, all of which Cang Ji took into the crooks of his arms.
Compared to a “Qianyu-like” Jing Lin, the real Jing Lin was what made Cang Ji greedy for more. All the pounding in his chest could be attributed to the sweetness of this very moment. Even his dizziness was gone, leaving only behind the exhilaration of probing deeper.
Jing Lin raised his head back, but Cang Ji pursued him closely. Jing Lin heard the rattan chair letting out a whiny “creak”, as if it could not bear the fiery passion on it. His collar was about to be soaked through. It was as if he had been besieged by something so soul-stirring that it shook him to the core and took his breath away. The danger called “Cang Ji” was closing in on him every step of the way, submerging him, drowning him. Even his cries for help were gobbled up clean. All he could do was to slump and gasp for breath as he was licked, bitten, sucked.
Cang Ji kept him in his lips and thought about how obedient this man was. So it turned out that his usual composure was all fake. Was he deceiving others while believing his own lie? Why was it that the moment Cang Ji held him with both hands, all that surrounded his fingers and heart was a bundle of softness?!
The grass spirit had been squashed until there was no place for it to escape. The flower bud on its head bloomed open with a “poof”. It wept and sniffled as it leaned close against both men’s cheeks and held Cang Ji’s collar to plead for help.
Cang Ji ground against Jing Lin until the tips of Jing Lin’s ears and the corners of his eyes were glaringly red. Cang Ji was all drenched in sweat as if he had just been resurrected. The moment he left Jing Lin’s lips, he was already regretting it. But the “bang bang bang” of the impatient third wheel behind him did not permit him to continue mulling over his feelings with his actions any further.
◈ ◈ ◈
The person was hoisting Le Yan over his shoulder. He could not see what they were doing inside. He had only lost his temper because they were blocking his way. When he saw that the golden pattern did not work, he stomped his feet to shake the ground.
The grass spirit was jolted down onto the chair. Flustered, it protected the flower on its head, afraid that its petals might fall off.
“Get out of my way!” The person said bossily. “Otherwise, I’ll burn all eighteen generations of your ancestors!”
The words had only left his mouth when he heard Jing Lin gave a frosty snort. Feeling a chill behind him, he dodged. Cang Ji’s fist arrived at the back of his neck. He turned over to parry it, but the force of its impact sent him back several steps, hurting and numbing his chest. He could not take it lying down, and so he lifted his robe to kick Cang Ji back. His legs were as swift as the wind as he repeatedly struck out at Cang Ji’s mingmen acupoint.1 Cang Ji warded off every single one of his attacks. He inexplicably hated this person, finding him to be extremely lacking in tact!
Although the person got in a few kicks, it hurt like hell. He hopped around a couple of steps, hissing and cussing, “You scoundrel! What the hell are you? Why are you so hard?!”
Cang Ji found this voice familiar. He twisted the person’s arms back in a grip and flung him onto the ground before giving him another kick. He replied, “I’m your grandfather.”
“Bah!” The captured person flew into a rage and cursed out loud. “I’m your grandfather’s grandfather!”
“Is that so?” Cang Ji sneered. He was still thinking about Jing Lin’s earlier heat and promptly rewarded the person with another few kicks. “My grandfather is probably already in his nth reincarnation! Since you wish to be him, I’ll send you on your way!”
“How dare you!” The person below Cang Ji kicked out their legs. “If you dare to hurt me, I will desecrate your ancestral grave!”
Cang Ji was so infuriated by this person he almost laughed out. He removed the rope on Le Yan and bound this person up securely before throwing him into the courtyard.
“I’ll see how you are going to desecrate my ancestral grave today!”
The grass spirit came running over with the wind and leaped onto the person’s body to stomp on him. It jerked around so much that the flower on its head closed up again.
Chu Lun coughed violently in the inner room as he felt around the bed and called out, “Le Yan, Le Yan!”
Le Yan was still sleeping soundly. Cang Ji threw him into the room, then turned around and rolled up his sleeves. He crouched down and said, “Let grandpa see what you look like first!”
The lanterns under the eaves suddenly lit up. Cang Ji and the lad on the ground looked at each other and shouted in unison.” Why is it you?!”
Ah Yi lay on the ground, all covered in dirt. On seeing the situation he was in, he rolled around in shame and anger and said resentfully, “It’s you again! You, you this—!”
His curses accumulated at the tip of his tongue, but he did not dare to spit them out. All he could do was to bend over the grasses muttering until his face turned red.
“I just want to catch this brush demon!” Ah Yi could bear it no longer. “And you guys even have to interfere with this? What the hell has it got to do with you?!”
With his back to the light, Cang Ji smiled coldly and said nothing. It made Ah Yi’s hairs stand on ends. He recalled the two embracing shadows that he had caught a glimpse of earlier and blurted out without thinking, “—I know it now! How shameless of you and Jing Lin! You came all the way here to get all lovey-dovey! Oh, good heavens. I can’t believe I can even come across such a thing in the middle of the night. I’m so jelly2 my feathers are falling off!”
命门(穴) Mingmen acupoint, or Gate of Life, is an acupoint in the lower back.
酸 literally sour, though the closest English equivalent in this context would be “jelly”. It’s used to refer to feelings of jealousy or envy over someone else’s relationship or public displays of affection. It’s also used (sarcastically) when someone ridicules or takes a dig at another person.