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All comments and discussions are appreciated (I read them all~), and do let me know if there's any typos afoot.
Fair warning: There's some naughty in this chapter. It's not super explicit, but… hehehe.
Big thank you to Bibster for the ko-fis~]
"What's this for? This Marquis caught you at the door of a prost.i.tutes' land, so the Flying Dragon Guard has to kill the witnesses to keep them quiet?"
Fu Shen had been towed by him into an uninhabited alley, and, without worry, was using his folding fan to hook the other's chin like a lecher. Yan Xiaohan allowed his frivolity, staring at him as he spoke. "The killing doesn't matter, but keeping you quiet does."
Fu Shen's interest was piqued. "How are you planning on keep… mmf…"
Before he could finish, someone leaned over and blocked up his mouth.
Newly wedded yet forced to separate, to unexpectedly reunite in the present; some acc.u.mulated feelings could not be spoken and had to be divulged via action. This kiss was even more poignant that the one from the departure, with a bit of an intentional vigor. As if to take revenge for the trick he'd played earlier, Yan Xiaohan nipped Fu Shen on the lips, neither lightly nor heavily.
That hurt just a bit. Fu Shen reached up and clamped down on his jaw, hissing in cold air between his teeth, yet didn't scold him. "So petty. Let up a bit, don't bite me so hard you leave a mark…"
Yan Xiaohan felt the regret as soon as he drew in that breath, moving to support Fu Shen by the back of his head and gently sucking at the place he had bitten. "Did it hurt?"
Fu Shen patted him on the back, indicating that he was fine, but he didn't forget to keep ribbing him. "Visiting a brothel behind my back… I hadn't even done anything, yet you're the one who felt wronged first."
Yan Xiaohan got into a half-kneel before him, coming to be slightly lower than Fu Shen's level, and gathered up both of his hands into the center of his own. "Are you jealous? Be honest."
Fu Shen sneered. "You believe everyone's just like you; a vat of vinegar."
"You're really not jealous? If I actually had gone to visit a brothel, what would you do?"
Fu Shen smiled slightly, whispering a question right back at him. "Do you think I wouldn't move my raised blade, Brother Yan?"
In fact, he should have called to mind long ago that with how intense Fu Shen was, any time there was any sort of duping or betrayal, the definite conclusion would be a complete severance that would only be cleared up on death. Yan Xiaohan had already undergone that stumble onto his face way back when, and it was only because Fu Shen was still young then, his heart still too soft, that he got the opportunity to get close once more.
He acted like he hadn't heard Fu Shen's last sentence, tactfully changing the subject. "How did you come to be here?"
With both his hands being pulled away, Fu Shen lowered his head to give a hinting look towards the fan in his lap. "There's a bamboo-craft shop nearby, and they make good folding fans. I had the proprietor make a few fans last year and just now remembered, so I came down to pick them up. Who could've predicted that we'd have such a chance confrontation."
Though Fu Shen had long separated himself from the life of luxury he had in his youth, he still had a fondness for elegance in his bones, the clothing, accessories, and items in his home nothing less than refined. People of those times were most fond of wood-framed fans, and more luxurious ones used ivory or cow horns for the frame. He, however, had a special preference for the markedly lightweight bamboo fan. He didn't insist upon having the spotted bamboo of the river G.o.ddesses; so long as it looked clean and sleek, he'd like it.
Yan Xiaohan vaguely recalled that in Fu Shen's occasional returns to the capital the past years, whenever they happened to meet on the streets, Fu Shen had never once been empty-handed.
"What about you?" Fu Shen went on. "Wasn't the scene of the accident at Emerald Pavilion? Why are you investigating Hundred Warblers?"
"That Golden Crow Guard died at the Pavilion, but he had previously gone to Hundred Warblers the same evening. There was something missing from his person, and I didn't find it at the Pavilion, so I'm guessing it might have been dropped here."
"What got dropped?" Fu Shen's question came entirely from his subconscious, and it was only after it came out that he thought it inappropriate. "Can I ask? If you can't say, then I didn't ask."
Yan Xiaohan squeezed his hand, no change in expression as he spoke. "Let me flaunt the reveal. It's not that I can't say, but that I'm going to wait until I return home at night to tell you." He looked around in every direction, grinning with some unclear implication. "It's quite a bit unsuitable to speak of here."
Fu Shen didn't understand his taste for making things harder than they had to be. Was he thinking that he had to come back during the evening to tell spooky stories? Did he take him for a three-year-old?
"Fine, then." He bent his fingers to clasp Yan Xiaohan's palm in resignation. "There is something that I think might be related to this case. I heard Doctor Shen say – the Guard died of Acute Yang Dissipation? When I went into the store to get the fans just now, I could occasionally hear the shopkeeps chatting. I caught that from the beginning of the year up until now, in these brief two months, this district of brothels had already had several people hauled out of them. Hasn't there been a bit too much 'death by s.e.x' recently?"
"I'll bring that thought with me." Yan Xiaohan stood up, bending over to kiss him on the cheek. "Leave Shen Yi'ce behind with me. I'll fill you in on the rest of it when I'm back."
Fu Shen could tell that he knew the score, so he nodded and said nothing more. Yan Xiaohan pushed him back out of the alley, handing him over to Xiao Xun. As he made to turn around, Fu Shen suddenly called out to stop him, then flung out his hand to toss the folding fan into the other's arms.
When he took his hand back, the sleeve of his robe cut a full, round arc in the air. With his dark clothes and black hair, even if all he could do was sit, the breezy charm of his elegance yet shone through, drawing countless courtesans in front of the building to stick their necks out to take a peek. It seemed as if Fu Shen was only gifting him a little trinket, his words heedless. "It's for you. Take it and go have fun."
Yan Xiaohan's eyes followed his silhouette as it disappeared into the mouth of the lane, unconsciously unfurling his finger and thus opening the abnormally light fan.
The outer spine was made with black bamboo, the inner bones palm bamboo. Heavy mica dusted the fan's silvery-starch surface. Painted on the front was a freehanded bright moon above a tower, and inscribed on the back was a few words from an ancient poem.
——I hope to become the Southwestern wind, so I may remain in your arms always. *
Wei Xuzhou slunk up close from behind. With one look at the words on the fan's leaf, a tongue-clucking and bird-calling nearly came out of his mouth. "Look, look at all that. This gives the bearing of a first wife…"
Yan Xiaohan put the fan away with a sweeping motion, poking at the hollow of his shoulder threateningly. "The first wife's bearing does not require your feelings for the time being. Stop saying nonsense and get investigating."
Even as it were, the smile on his face was a like a jar filled to the brim with water; a light tap would have spilled it over.
Wei Xuzhou stared at his back as he walked with the wind, unable to keep from being internally bewildered: was the Emperor sanctioning a marriage for him… actually not because he pitied him for being a bachelor half his life?
Yan Xiaohan returned right when night hit, Fu Shen and his party having since settled down into the Yan Estate. The bedroom that had been unused for a segment of time was once again brightened with light, Fu Shen seated under a lantern as he read a book.
His face was softly smoothed out, losing that cold, hard, oppressive feeling in the midst of being focused and preoccupied. Even his serious expression no longer looked so lofty and out of reach, only making one take him as pleasing to the eye.
He focused on reading, and the other focused on watching him.
"Keep staring at me and I'm going to charge money." Fu Shen placed the book upside down on the table, icily mocking him. "Ease up a bit, alright? Those eyes of yours are about to sc.r.a.pe a layer of my skin off. Did you not get enough eye candy at Hundred Warblers today?"
"You said you weren't jealous, yet your words aren't straying from that place." Yan Xiaohan entered the room, took off his robe, changed into house clothes, sat across from Fu Shen, and accepted the tea he handed over. "You must be compelling me to say it straight, which is fine. I don't want to use words like 'you're better-looking than them' to sweet-talk you, as I think that putting you on par with those people is a disrespect to you.
You are set up high within my heart, and no one can reach you." Yan Xiaohan took a sip of tea, tone undisturbed. "These words are from the heart. There's no jest in them."
This abruptly-arriving confession caused Fu Shen pause.
Yan Xiaohan sighed, put down his cup, walked over to be in front of Fu Shen, then reached out and pulled him into his embrace.
"I rather like you, Marquis," he said. "This is the first time in my life I've been so fond of someone. That's why there shouldn't be a hint of misunderstanding between us. The incident from seven years ago… must not be repeated."
Fu Shen was silent for a spell, then asked, bit by bit, "When… did you start?"
He had been under the impression that their feelings deepened only after the close proximity of living together, but from the meaning he gleaned within Yan Xiaohan's words, that didn't seem to be the case — back when he still regarded him as a friend, was Yan Xiaohan's heart already going off the beaten path for him?
"Seven years ago." Yan Xiaohan smiled bitterly. "But back then… I was too c.o.c.ksure of myself."
Fu Shen barely repressed his shock. "Why?"
He was just a kid then!
"If you're willing to hear it, I'll tell it to you piece by piece later." Yan Xiaohan carefully kissed him on the temple. "In any case, so long as you're well aware I'm not going to look for someone else behind your back, it's okay."
"It's not okay," Fu Shen replied bluntly. "Make me happy by talking about every part you like about me."
Yan Xiaohan: "……"
The atmosphere that had been dampened by his self-narrated worries was swept away to nothingness. Yan Xiaohan couldn't help but m.u.f.fle his laughter against the other's shoulder. Fu Shen was a strong person in all respects, especially emotionally. Yan Xiaohan sometimes felt himself to be walking arduously on a single-plank bridge that was on the verge of collapse, and each time his foot stepped on air and he believed that he was going to have his body bashed and bones snapped, he would be caught securely by Fu Shen below. Only upon being fortunate to open his eyes once more would he discover that, beneath the mountain of clouds and winding fog, the ground was actually right below his feet.
That aspect was one he had discerned all along.
Yan Xiaohan drawled into his ear in a voice so low, only his breath remained. "From head to toe, where I've touched, and where I haven't — I like all of it."
In the night, after they had bathed, they laid shoulder-to-shoulder in bed, fermenting in drowsiness. Abruptly remembering the case from the daytime, Fu Shen jabbed Yan Xiaohan with an elbow. "You said today that you'd tell me when you got back home. So, what was going on?"
"Oh. You're talking about what I was looking for." Yan Xiaohan turned around, faced him, and placed a hand on the man's waist. "It was a boot wallet.
The dead man was Yang Hexuan, Golden Crow Guard. Military officials will typically ride horses on the daily, very rarely taking sedan chairs, but they don't have anywhere to put things while riding. For that reason, if they need to carry a few small objects or doc.u.ments on them, they usually put them in a boot wallet. Yang Hexuan's belongings were all taken away, yet I didn't find his wallet. It also wasn't at the Emerald Pavilion, so I went to Hundred Warblers to look for it. As expected, he had dropped it in the room he drank in that night.
It was packed with a few IOUs, about fifty taels, and a paper bundle that had some fine powder left in it; I reckon that's exactly what we were trying to find, and I already handed it over to Shen Yi'ce. We'll know what it is tomorrow."
"How can you be sure that what was in the bundle killed him?"
"I questioned the prost.i.tute that had waited on him that night. The young lady said that before he had s.e.x, he would constantly use drugs to get in the mood. Later on, somehow, he would regain a lot of his lost strength, and would also be more brazen than the ordinary person. He also claimed that he wasn't taking drugs, and it would be strange if he hadn't. There's some common aphrodisiacs in the brothel, but to have such an effect, it's most likely that he secretly got a strong drug from another avenue on his own time."
"Is that it?" Fu Shen wondered after listening to that. "Why did you have to come back to be able to talk about this lame thing?"
"Are you saying that having me discuss the topics of aphrodisiacs and men with you in a run-down alley is okay?" Yan Xiaohan asked with full confidence that he was in the right. "Shouldn't this sort of private conversation between husband and wife be said in bed at midnight, when no one's around?"
Fu Shen: "……"
Just now, he had been listening to a string of "aphrodisiac"s with no change in expression, no ripples in his heart at all; yet when Yan Xiaohan said it how he did, he instantly felt a burst of hot blood rus.h.i.+ng down into his abdomen, almost standing up on the spot.
The hand fastened on his waist suddenly tightened, and he was even being pulled towards Yan Xiaohan along with the blanket. The shameless p.r.i.c.k repeatedly ma.s.saged his lower back, huskily teasing him. "You really are unfeeling…"
Part.i.tioned by a few layers of soft, light brocade bedding, Fu Shen could still feel something against his leg.
They're both men. How could he not get it?
He s.h.i.+fted uneasily, then was promptly restrained by Yan Xiaohan. "Don't move.
You don't need to mind it. Give me just a moment." He placatingly stroked along his back. "I won't touch you."
Fu Shen's brows subtly raised up at that.
Sure enough, he didn't touch him. After a while, when Fu Shen's too-fast heartbeat evened out, he suddenly detected a slightly vibrating stream of air coming over the crown of his head.
He raised it and asked, "What're you doing?"
Yan Xiaohan smiled serenely. "Reciting scriptures."
Fu Shen bore with it for quite some time, sighed, and ultimately accepted his misfortunes, reaching into the sheets.
Early the next morning, the two were having breakfast with Xiao Xun, who, half the meal later, abruptly asked, "General, did you two break something in your room last night? Is everything okay?"
Fu Shen almost choked on his congee, guiltily remembering how when they were fooling around last night, they weren't paying attention and kicked the foot-warmer out and onto the floor, making a loud crash that woke up half the people in the courtyard.
"You've asked the right person." Yan Xiaohan licked the wound at the inside of his lip, sucking in a breath of pain as he smiled like he could die with no regrets. "Your Marquis was persistent in getting me to scuffle with him last night, and that was his first move."
The author says: * Cao Zhi‘s Seven Sorrowful Poems
Fu Shen: My Yan… with you talking smack, will my raised blade remain unmoving?
The translator cackles loudly.