“With early spring approaching, many troublesome matters have cropped up. We have yet to discuss a plan today. It wouldn’t be easy to see each other again if you just leave now.” Xiao Chiye said, “So rest up here tonight.”
Shen Zechuan broke into a smile and said, “No hanky-panky.”
The way he enunciated these words were melodious, with a hint of sensual suggestiveness lingering on the tip of his tongue. His eyes were clearly stirring up the waves of lust; even the fingers he had released from his grip at the drop of his words were plucking away at the strings of desires, rousing it.
This despicable man.
Xiao Chiye watched Shen Zechuan intently and thought to himself.
This was the real bad egg. He kept pushing against the boundaries of his diminishing limit every given second and trampled all over his endurance with cunningness and naivety, as if he was leaning next to his ear and calling him to “come mess with me”. The tail of the sinner that was this fox tickled its way to his legs, his eyes full of tease.
“Serious matters.” Xiao Chiye closed the windows. “Must be seriously discussed.”
◈ ◈ ◈
“Prepare a memorial tomorrow morning regarding the public ditches, and I’ll bring it up to His Majesty.” Xiao Chiye lay on the rattan chair and picked up the robe that had slipped onto the floor. One by one, he set the items in the sleeve pocket onto a cabinet shelf.
“You can’t.” Shen Zechuan soaked in the bathwater and said after giving it some thought, “You’re the Viceroy of the Imperial Army; you are not in charge of the official proceedings of public works, nor the complaints of the commoners. It does not concern you. You will definitely draw suspicion to yourself if you submit a memorial out of the blue.”
“Then you bring it up. You live there, so it is not strange for you to mention it. I’ll make a note to go along as the accompanying supervisor.” Xiao Chiye fished out an ivory folding fan. He asked, “Why are you carrying an ivory one?”
The literati, who kept items of elegance in their sleeves and were particular about portraying themselves as distinguished and sophisticated, viewed the likes of ivory and ebony as the most unbearably vulgar. Therefore, descendants of the noble clans would never bring with them folding fans made of sandalwood or ivory as they went out, regardless of whether they were well-read in the classics or not. Most used folding fans of moso bamboo, adorned with calligraphy by famous calligraphers.
Shen Zechuan said, “For fun. Such an uncouth object suits me the best.”
He had stayed in Zhao Zui Temple for five years, so he could not engage in literary pursuits with the noble descendants. He had to be an uncouth commoner who was a culture snob feigning to be refined. Only this would be right, and only this would be fitting. So besides the ivory folding fan that he always carried with him, he had picked the most expensive-looking kind for his jade pendant that he hung by his waist.
Having done groping around Shen Zechuan’s sleeve pocket, Xiao Chiye realized that they were truly polar opposites.
Xiao Chiye’s likes and dislikes seemed to be clearly distinguished on the outside. Yet if one had really dug deeper, they would realize that these distinctions were rather murky. Most of the activities he seemed to indulge in could be forgotten as soon as he closed his eyes; there were none that he truly took to heart. On the contrary, what seemed to be shady deals he engaged in to get by were the results of his own sweat and blood. He did not have a favorite dish, nor did he have a favorite wine. All one could say when the topic was brought up was that “the Second Young Master loves to drink”. But what exactly did the Second Young Master like to drink? No one could really say.
On the other hand, Shen Zechuan looked as though he had no preferences and could go along with anything. But feel him up a little, and one would be able to get a clear grasp on his likes and dislikes. He did not like strong bitter tea; just one sip, and he would never ever touch it a second time. He loved eating fish. As long as the location was right and no one was watching, he could debone the fish just as cleanly and neatly as a cat.
Xiao Chiye found it amusing.
It was as if he had seen Shen Zechuan’s soft spots.
Shen Zechuan’s waist. Shen Zechuan’s back. Shen Zechuan’s shoulder blades. He could recognize all these, even with his eyes closed.
Xiao Chiye thought to himself with lowered eyes as he held the robes.
He could intimidate a person with a sudden glance. But after a few embraces, Xiao Chiye could sense the joy and anger behind all those gentle words and flattery of his. He was just like the moon reflected in the water puddle tonight, where one provocation did not seem like it would stir up any great waves. But in fact, he had already put a black mark against you in his book and would find the next opportunity to kick back at you.
Shen Zechuan came out with his robe draped over his shoulders. His hair was still damp. Turning his head, he saw Xiao Chiye seated in the chair, playing with that ivory folding of his. His own clothes were neatly hung at the side.
“We aren’t done discussing,” Xiao Chiye stood up. “Drink the ginger soup and sit down to talk.”
Shen Zechuan stretched out his hand to raise the curtains, but Xiao Chiye beat him to it and raised it with the fan. Both men stepped out. Most of the lights in the inner chamber were already extinguished, leaving only a glazed lamp lit.
Shen Zechuan felt a little hot. After downing a bowl of ginger soup, he felt better. Although he was fine during the day, he was feeling dizzy and heavy-headed now.
“Xi Hongxuan has been transferred to the Ministry of Revenue. The assessment for officials is around the corner, and he’s in the Bureau of Evaluations.” Xiao Chiye said, “This will interfere with the officials’ observational appraisals from the inspections. Did you come up with this idea for him?”
Shen Zechuan shook his head with the ginger soup in his mouth. After swallowing it down, he said, “It should be Xue Xiuzhuo’s idea.”
“I have men in both the Ministry of Rites and the Ministry of War. If they were to be transferred out because of the assessment this round,” Xiao Chiye looked at him, “then our losses will far outweigh the gains.”
Shen Zechuan nodded and said, “This isn’t something to worry too much about. Other than the connection through marriage between the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Rites, Jiang Xu, and the Deputy General, Zhao Hui, the others aren’t too conspicuous. I can’t see how Xue Xiuzhuo would get a thorough read on you either. Just let everyone conduct their businesses as usual. Besides, the inspections and assessments won’t be carried out by just one clan. Secretariat Elder Hai will send his men over too. Xi Hongxuan won’t dare to act too brazenly.”
“The inspection this time concerns Zhongbo. The snowstorm a while back has brought hardships upon Zhongbo; ten or so people in total have died one after another. Hai Liangyi should be sending an official over this year to rectify the problem.” Xiao Chiye said.
“Zhongbo.” Shen Zechuan seemed to think back on it. “Zhongbo… isn’t easy to manage now. Should they send a literary official, he can’t be guaranteed to hold up his own against the bandits, nor will he be able to command the newly dispatched garrison troops. There needs to be a proper plan for this place; even Secretariat Elder Hai himself would have to fret over it.”
“At present, there is no suitable candidate in Qudu. It’s all negotiable as long as the one assigned is not from the noble clan. Cizhou has a bearing on the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path; it’d be inviting trouble if Cizhou were to fall into their hands. There is a need to plan ahead for rainy days… plan ahead for rainy days.” Xiao Chiye softened his tone as he looked at Shen Zechuan’s weary face.
After Shen Zechuan’s promotion, he had been running around on assignments on both ends. At night, he often had to be at Ouhua Pavilion and socialize with Xi Hongxuan, who had fair maidens in his arms and a position with practically no obligations. And because he wrote tunes for Li Jianheng, he did not even have to attend morning court sessions; he had plenty of time to rest. But Shen Zechuan had to stand guard before the Emperor every day with his blade. He did not sleep at night, and in the day, he even had to deal with military craftsmen of all sorts. He was even busier when he was on duty, so much that he might not necessarily get the chance to eat his meals.
He did not even have the time to bother about his residence on Donglong Street, which had been devoid of light due to the blockage of the protruding edges of his neighbors’ eaves. It was only yesterday that he realized that his courtyard was already flooded. The bedding in the house was so damp that there was no way he could stay there. He could send Qiao Tianya over to Zhao Zui Temple to stay with his shifu and teacher. But he himself was not at liberty to.
He looked even thinner now, let alone talk about gaining weight after the new year.
Xiao Chiye watched him for a long time, then reached out his hand across the small table to stroke Shen Zechuan’s cheek. That cheek was unbelievably scalding hot; it was far from “a little hot”. Medicine had yet to be applied on the rashes on his neck. Xiao Chiye wanted to call out to him, and yet at the same time, he did not feel like doing so.
But his touch woke Shen Zechuan up. Shen Zechuan braced himself to keep his spirits up and said, “… Uh-huh, we do have to plan ahead for rainy days. The Hereditary Prince…”
Before he could finish his words, Xiao Chiye had already leaned over to him. Xiao Chiye’s arms were strong and sturdy, and it was effortless for him to pick up Shen Zechuan. The bowl on the table was knocked over, and Xiao Chiye used his leg to kick it away as he said in a leisurely and carefree manner, “This Second Young Master will now take you to the nuptial chamber.”
Shen Zechuan wiped the sweat from his forehead and let himself hang over him, saying, “Have we already finished discussing the serious matters tonight?”
“We’re done.” Xiao Chiye clasped him around his back and said, “And now, it’s time to repay your debt.”
After saying this, he bent his back to lay Shen Zechuan on the bedding.
Shen Zechuan shielded his face from the light with his hand and said under his breath, “No lights.”
“All the clearer to see you with if there’s a little light.” Xiao Chiye undressed Shen Zechuan in this position.
Shen Zechuan’s chest was exposed, and he suddenly felt a coldness on his nape. He looked at Xiao Chiye through the gaps between his fingers. Xiao Chiye dipped his fingers into the ointment and dabbed it on the rashes. This whole process was as if he was oiling a piece of jade. The more he applied, the smoother it felt. It was so smooth Xiao Chiye’s heart was wavering out of control. He really did not have the makings of a gentleman.
“I’ll have to tie you up in a while, so you don’t roll all over the place. Otherwise, this ointment would have been applied in vain.” Xiao Chiye closed the ointment box and took out a handkerchief to wipe his fingers slowly as he sat on the edge of the bed. He said self-mockingly, “You are the only one this Second Young Master has ever served in his life.”
Shen Zechuan slipped into the bedding and turned his head aside to sleep.
Xiao Chiye sat for a while before he rose to blow out the last lamp. The bed sank as Xiao Chiye hugged Shen Zechuan around his waist from behind and pulled him over from the edge of the bed to hold him captive in the crooks of his arms.
“Got you bound.” Xiao Chiye said, “I’ll throw you out right away if you dare to kick me.”
With opened eyes, Shen Zechuan looked at the window through which hazy moonlight was shining. His icy hands touched Xiao Chiye’s wrists that were restraining him. He said, “You’re so hard.”
“Uh-huh.” After a moment of silence, Xiao Chiye said, “I’d advise you not to venture downwards.”
Shen Zechuan endured it for a while before saying, “I’m talking about your waist tablet.”
“Is it the waist tablet?” Xiao Chiye tilted his head slightly to the side and pressed it down beside Shen Zechuan’s ear. He repeated, “Is it the waist tablet?”
His words scalded Shen Zechuan.
Xiao Chiye said, “You can’t take it when I bite your ears, and you start trembling when I just ask a few questions. How dare you laugh at me for being rusty in bed when this is all you’ve got?”
Shen Zechuan composed himself for a moment before he said, “Then why don’t we try switching positions?”
Xiao Chiye actually sat up and helped Shen Zechuan sit on top of him. He released his hands and laughed.
“Undressing the robes or unbuckling the belts.” Xiao Chiye said, “Do as you please.”
There was no knowing whether Shen Zechuan was too sick or too feverish, but his breathing was in disarray, and he was not as composed as he always was. He said softly, “Tonight––”
Shen Zechuan had yet to finish his words when Xiao Chiye held down the back of his head to kiss him ever so fiercely and guided his hand down to his sweet spot. Shen Zechuan cowered back. Xiao Chiye laughed at him until Shen Zechuan felt indignant and started to struggle.
Xiao Chiye suddenly turned over and pinned him down once again under his body. The bed let out a creak, and the bedding sank. It was so burning hot that Shen Zechuan’s palms were sweating.
Xiao Chiye’s temperature was scalding. Shen Zechuan loathed this blazing heat, but he seemed to have nowhere to run; yet at the same time, there seemed to be still room for maneuver. They lurked in this intricate labyrinth-like game of chess, gaining a moment of reprieve from the illusion of mutual dependence they came to possess in the throes of passion and intimacy.
Once they sank deep into indulgence, the feeling of ecstasy urged them onward. Sweet, drunken whispers resonated in their ears. Even though Shen Zechuan loathed that numbing heat, he was pushing Xiao Chiye away, and at the same time, also pulling Xiao Chiye towards himself.
Xiao Chiye tore away those clothes and pushed himself up along Shen Zechuan’s back. Just as Xiao Chiye had fantasized when he sat in the rattan chair, he did not miss a single inch of Shen Zechuan. He dominated this man, forcefully using his own scent to overpower the latter.
Shen Zechuan wrapped his arms around Xiao Chiye’s neck and bit him. The two nuzzled the tips of their noses together, once again forging an extraordinary closeness in this moment of madness and depravity.
Kissing him, Xiao Chiye said, “You’re insane.”
Those torrents of bites that fell like a raging storm gradually settled into tender kisses, and the softness of lips and tongues dissolved away all defenses. It was under these intermittent murmurs of words that the insane man fell asleep.
Xiao Chiye caressed Shen Zechuan’s cheek with his thumb and propped himself up slightly. Shen Zechuan was still grasping some of Xiao Chiye’s hair between his fingers as he slept soundly. Xiao Chiye lowered his head and scrutinized him. In that instant, many thoughts ran through his mind.
Desire is a shackle.
In this moment, Xiao Chiye invited Zuo Qianqiu over to Qudu. Just to ask shifu one question.
Can desire be conquered?
But in the end, he did not voice his question.
Because he already knew that it was a question that Zuo Qianqiu had no answer for; the only one who could answer it was Xiao Chiye himself. Many people had said that he had been born at the wrong time, but he had already come into this world. To be in possession of desire was not a fault of his own making.
He was merely a human.
His name was Xiao Chiye.
He seemed to be the polar opposite of Shen Zechuan, yet he also seemed to be completely similar. The only one in this world who could understand the entirety of Xiao Chiye’s pain and suffering without any use of words was Shen Zechuan. And this was something they were perfectly well aware of since their very first kiss.
Xiao Chiye kissed Shen Zechuan between his brows and on the bridge of his nose.
It did not matter by which name this feeling was called. They mutually staked their claims on one another, increasingly growing closer amidst their struggles. The pit of desire was bottomless, and the abyss of misery, unsurmountable. Grinding against each other ear to ear, temple to temple,2 was a way to wear down their agony. But this way was getting too addictive, as if they could mutually alleviate their own pain by simply being next to each other.
After that bout of insatiable pleasure-making, they tacitly began to shed their shells and reveal their true selves. The ravine of the past had become a puddle; it was as if all it took was a single leap or a single helping hand to stride over it before merging once again into one.
Xiao Chiye kissed Shen Zechuan again, and Shen Zechuan, in his slumber, tightened his grip on Xiao Chiye’s little braids.
Ripples washed over the white moon in the water puddle under the abundance of cool breeze, while the Heartbreaker and the Loverboy slept the entire night away nestled under the blanket of the moonlight.
I hope that everyone won’t attack each other when you have a difference in opinions and don’t bring any other works into the mix. Except for this, feel free to do as you like in the comment section. I would like to express my sincere thanks to those who have come and gone, as well as to those who have praised or criticized me. Even if you praise me to the skies, I won’t actually treat it as gospel and consider myself god. With this bit I have, I can’t even get to the passing line. Likewise, I won’t actually consider myself a piece of trash even if there are those who decry me as disgusting. This is all that I am good for. Enjoying what I’m writing is what makes it all worthwhile. If you happen to enjoy yourself while reading, then what a happy coincidence. We are suited for each other, so let’s have fun together. If you happen to have a bad time while reading, then no problem; we will just not play together. Downvote me, stomp on me, or call me an asshole—I think that’s fine. We’ll just wave and kiss each other goodbye and consider it a souvenir of our interactions. Right? I wish for you and for myself to be happy. Living to have fun is the right way of life. It displeases you when I take it personally, and it displeases you when I don’t. What good does it do to mutually torment each other and wear each other down for love and hate? For this chuunibyou piece of literature, everyone has lost weight from the stress. Thinking back on this in the future is just going to fill you with regret.
So says the author who has been shouting, “stop fighting, stop fighting”.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again. We all have our own views and tastes, and every one of us is perfectly entitled to voice his or her own opinion, but kindly refrain from dragging the author herself into public tirades. Drop the novel and move on if you don’t like it. But please respect the author’s right to write her story the way she wants. (And I say this not just for t97 but for every other author out there.) Thank you!
This is our combined version of the original uncensored version and new add-on text in the censored version.