Translated with: Jia<3
Xiao Chiye headed south from Bianbo camp to join up with the Cizhou garrison troops at the borders of Libei. But instead of continuing south, he chose the same route Shen Zechuan had taken and took a detour to the west of Dunzhou. The troops could only advance at night in order to not alarm King Yi of Fanzhou, but fortunately, he made it just in time.
Shen Zechuan leaned over to sniff Xiao Chiye.
Xiao Chiye would not let him get his wish and lifted him high. In retaliation, Shen Zechuan clutched him by the front of his clothes. Xiao Chiye stayed conscious of Shen Zechuan’s bandaged right hand, worried that he would worsen the injury if he so much as exerted force on it, so he had no choice but to lower Shen Zechuan and let the latter sniff all he wanted.
“It has been two days since I last bathed too.” Shen Zechuan pressed his knee up against Xiao Chiye and sank into the bedding to snuggle up to him. “Let’s bathe together.”
Rain pitter-pattered on the eaves, sounding as if it was being scoured by countless amounts of tiny brushes. Xiao Chiye opened up his chest to Shen Zechuan, and Shen Zechuan lay on top of it. That loosened collar of his gave him a laid-back air. Every inch of his skin was seeking out Xiao Chiye. He was this relaxed, as if the sensuality oozing off him was unintentional, and all these expressions of his, innocent.
Shen Zechuan had the ability to turn his exhalations of breath into murmurs. In Xiao Chiye’s eyes, Shen Zechuan was a natural beauty. The expression in those eyes tantalized Xiao Chiye’s heart the same way his warm fingertips grazed against the surface of the lake in Xiao Chiye’s soul, stirring up ripple after ripple. Shen Zechuan had moments where he would plead; every time he could not bear it anymore, he would tearfully call out all of Xiao Chiye’s forms of address, yet he could even make the way he pleaded sound so intoxicating.
They had always been in sync with one another in bed, each with the ability to mutually read even the slightest moan and groan that passed between them. Such unparalleled ecstasy was derived from the way they fit so perfectly together. If Xiao Chiye wanted to hold his own against a lover like this, he had to be a wall, one that could stand firm against the incoming waves.
“Sure,” Xiao Chiye’s expression suddenly shifted as he said in a frivolous tone. “I’ll bathe with you.”
Shen Zechuan found the expression in those eyes ominous.
◈ ◈ ◈
As Dunzhou was located far to the east, the days grew cold easily. The bathhouses set up within Tianji Courtyard were unlike the ones in Qudu with windows; instead, they were all sturdily built enclosed rooms. Inside, the bathing facilities were not only complete and comprehensive, but also varied and fanciful. Hot, humid water vapor would come assailing them in the faces the moment the door was opened and the bamboo blinds rolled up.
Even before Shen Zechuan had been completely stripped of his clothes, he was already soaking in the water. Under the pretense of keeping his wound from contact with water, both his wrists had been bound with a waist sash and conveniently hung up on a small rack near the pool by Xiao Chiye. Xiao Chiye had even selected a little golden bell from the wicker basket for Shen Zechuan, which he had suspended in the air. As long as Shen Zechuan moved, the bell would ring, crisp and clear.
Shen Zechuan’s clothes were soaked through. He could not withstand the heat in the bathhouse, but at that moment, he was too preoccupied to care about anything else. The tips of his ears had gone bright red, the stark contrast of which made the jade earring seem particularly fair and delicate in comparison. Xiao Chiye squatted before him and hoisted up Shen Zechuan’s legs.
“Since you can’t seem to remember a word I say,” A bare-chested Xiao Chiye wiped the small blade clean with a handkerchief. “I’ll have to teach you a lesson and drill it into you.”
Shen Zechuan’s toes curled slightly as he called out with his eyes shut. “Xiao Ce’an!”
“Hm,” Xiao Chiye’s attention was on his hands. “Who are you calling?”
The chill of the blade against Shen Zechuan jolted Shen Zechuan into opening his eyes. Shame burned in his eyes. “I hate you to death!”
Xiao Chiye spared him a glance. “I hate you to death too.”
Feeling the friction of the small blade as it scraped against him, Shen Zechuan could only tremble slightly. The water was hot, while the blade was cool, and the sensation of the blade traversing every inch of him was especially distinct and clear. He could not bear it, and he could not bring himself to look down. All he could dare to do was stare at Xiao Chiye.
This gaze was truly too pitiful. It was the first time Xiao Chiye had ever seen it, and he simply had the urge to capture the moment by grabbing a brush and painting it down without delay. He was initially still miffed, but then he suddenly started to laugh. Xiao Chiye had never done something like this before. This was his first time, so he went at it very carefully and shaved all the areas that ought to be shaved completely clean.
Shen Zechuan’s back was still pressing against the wall of the pool, and these vastly different sensations drained him of his entire life’s composure. He was genuinely in Xiao Chiye’s hands now, and he did not dare to move even an inch. But their surroundings were so brightly illuminated that he gasped lightly for breath in the damp mist. Condensation coated the jade earring with every rise and fall of his chest. Shen Zechuan seemed to have become Xiao Chiye’s jade, one that was toyed with until no ounce of privacy and secrecy remained.
Xiao Chiye asked, “Are you still going to stab me in the heart next time?”
Shen Zechuan did not answer.
Xiao Chiye took another look after he was done shaving and discovered that Shen Zechuan’s eyes were red through and through. He could not tell if he had teared up from the steam or frustration. Xiao Chiye’s heart did not soften at all. He raised his hand to pinch Shen Zechuan’s cheek and proclaim ruthlessly, “For each time you get injured, I’ll shave you once.”
Shen Zechuan felt cool and chilly down there. His eyes were brimming with tears, and the redness at the tip of his ears had already spread to his chest. Before he was done taking a breather, Xiao Chiye pinned him against the wall of the pool and kissed him until the bell went swinging wildly.
◈ ◈ ◈
The rain was still falling the next day. Shen Zechuan had a rare good night’s sleep.
When Xiao Chiye put on his clothes, Chen Yang was already waiting under the eaves. He slipped on the wooden clogs in the room and went out of the inner chamber. Instead of having Chen Yang discuss work in this room, Xiao Chiye headed out onto the walkway and made his way to another room.
Chen Yang followed behind him and raised the bamboo blinds to disperse some of the stuffiness inside. He turned to Xiao Chiye and presented the register of names. “The cavalrymen taken prisoner this time numbered two thousand and three hundred men. They are now being held in the Dunzhou prison under the watch of the Cizhou’s Garrison Troops.”
Xiao Chiye flipped through the book without sitting down and asked with his back to the light, “Where’s Lei Jingzhe?”
“Dead.” Chen Yang paused for a moment. “He was already killed when we dug him out from the ruins. Based on his injuries, he died of strangulation.”
Xiao Chiye set down the book. He recalled the injury on Shen Zechuan’s right hand. After standing for a while, he said, “Don’t wait until we return to Cizhou. It’d be too late. Write a letter now and have it sent to Qidong posthaste. Use my personal seal…” At this point, he paused again and turned around, “Or rather, affix Lanzhou’s seal.”
This matter concerned the situation in Zhongbo, and personal relationships must not be brought into the mix during the discussions with Qi Zhuyin. Qi Zhuyin was already doing her part as a friend by taking care of Lu Pingyan on Lu Guangbai’s behalf. Xiao Chiye’s personal seal represented Libei, and if they kept on asking favors of her, they would not be able to repay this debt. Moreover, Shen Zechuan was the one in charge of Cizhou now. As a commanding general of Libei, affixing his own seal would diminish Shen Zechuan’s authority and prestige. Shen Zechuan still had to deal with Qi Zhuyin in the future, and it would be inconvenient for both parties to act if they had to show him consideration and take him into account.
“Lei Jingzhe is the main perpetrator behind the turmoil and unrest in the two prefectures of Dunzhou and Duanzhou. This time, he even led the Biansha Cavalry into Dunzhou. Libei and Cizhou joined forces to attack the enemy. We fought the Biansha people, for the sake of the Zhongbo’s commoners.” Chen Yang said smoothly. “We are not in the wrong, even if news of this incident were to spread to Qudu.”
“We are not in the wrong only because Qudu has no soldiers.” Xiao Chiye said, “Otherwise, there would be tens of thousands of accusations and charges slapped on Lanzhou. But just as a cornered dog would jump over a wall, a desperate man would be driven to drastic measures. Dunzhou is already in our possession. Lanzhou now has three prefectures under his control. Even if Xue Xiuzhuo and the Empress Dowager have been too busy with their own affairs, they are going to start thinking of ways to bring Lanzhou under control. The best way is to set Qi Zhuyin loose to take down Fanzhou first so that Cizhou loses their barrier in the southeast.”
But this matter was not of utmost urgency. The Bianjun Commandery was presently unmanned, and Qi Zhuyin had already moved from Cangjun Commandery to Bianjun Commandery to hold the fort and patch up the gap in defenses on Lu Guangbai’s behalf. The Biansha people transferred Hasen from the southeast to the north, yet this did not give Qidong an unfair advantage over them. Amu’er was still deploying his elite troops and generals here.
That Xiao Chiye was able to make it to Cizhou this time was also due to Xiao Fangxu.
Duanzhou was left without soldiers after the defeat of the Zhongbo’s troops, and consequently, this place became a vulnerable weakness of Dazhou. But Amu’er did not invade a second time. Instead, he concentrated his troops in the north and southeast. It was as if he was specifically bypassing Zhongbo to chip away at the two tough nuts that were Libei and Qidong. Xiao Fangxu thought that Amu’er was using diversionary tactics, and the emergence of the scorpions squad made Xiao Fangxu all the more certain that Amu’er had not given up on Zhongbo at all. For this reason, he had to take Shen Zechuan’s proposal to rebuild Zhongbo’s line of defense seriously.
Xiao Chiye made a few inquiries about Dunzhou’s military affairs. They had only just discussed the armory when they saw Gu Jin enter.
“Master.” Gu Jin cast a glance at the courtyard and said, “Fei Sheng and the others are still kneeling on the veranda.”
Xiao Chiye turned his head aside to look at the overlapping shadows through the window lattice. He did not answer.
So Gu Jin did not dare to bring it up again and retreated to the side.
There were still bandits in Dunzhou whom they had yet to deal with. The 15,000 men Xiao Chiye brought with him were enough to keep them in check with their military presence. Liu’er could barely even walk properly when he saw Xiao Chiye. Seeing that even Lei Jingzhe was dead, he did not dare to start hatching all those plans of his again. But he was, after all, not a decent man, and Xiao Chiye had no intent to let him remain around him; thus, he sent Liu’er away to Kong Ling for him to make the necessary arrangements. Xiao Chiye did not lay a hand on the Dunzhou armory, as they still had plans to use this place after conquering it.
Xiao Chiye busied himself around until noon before he remembered that Shen Zechuan was still sleeping. He returned to the room for a look and saw that Shen Zechuan had already gotten out of bed and was presently standing under the eaves listening to Kong Ling discuss affairs.
When Shen Zechuan saw Xiao Chiye, he silently averted his gaze.
Xiao Chiye played it cool, knowing that he had gone too far in bullying Shen Zechuan yesterday, and Shen Zechuan had still yet to get over it. As he had gotten up too early this morning, he lifted the curtains to enter the inner chamber, where he took the chance while he had free time to take a nap.
When Xiao Chiye woke up, Shen Zechuan was sitting at the desk looking at Cizhou’s case files.
Xiao Chiye wiped his face with a handkerchief and asked, “Have you taken your meal?”
Shen Zechuan answered in a muted voice, “No.”
Xiao Chiye wanted to laugh, finding Lanzhou to be quite the pitiful one. No doubt he was unaccustomed to being smooth and bare down there, although the way he sat all prim and proper was unexpectedly a little seductive. Xiao Chiye sat down on the opposite side and propped up his leg before saying in a leisurely and carefree manner, “Then, let’s call for them to serve up the food. We’ll eat a little.”
Shen Zechuan set his brush down. He was about to say something when someone entered the outer chamber.
Chen Yang did not head into the inner chamber. “Master, Laohu is here.”
Only then, Xiao Chiye remembered that he had asked Chen Yang to summon Tantai Hu over before he took his nap. There was something he had to say in Shen Zechuan’s presence. He straightened up a little and said, “Let Laohu in—”
Shen Zechuan suddenly mouthed to him: no entry.
Xiao Chiye gave him a questioning look, but Shen Zechuan ignored him. Outside, Tantai Hu had already strode across the threshold and was waiting for Xiao Chiye to summon him into the inner chamber. Xiao Chiye did not understand what Shen Zechuan meant by it, so he could only say, “I called you over for a matter. I didn’t mention it before in Libei, but the time is right now. Let me ask you, will you defend Dunzhou?”
Tantai Hu has been following Xiao Chiye around all this time, so he was taken aback to hear him ask. After blanking out for a moment, he asked, “Is Master remaining in Dunzhou too?”
Twisting his thumb ring, Xiao Chiye said, “You had no choice when you followed me in Qudu, and you were forced by circumstance when we later went to Libei. Times are different now. You can assume sole responsibility—”
Xiao Chiye saw Shen Zechuan making his way over from under the other side of the table. Realizing that it did not bode well, he attempted to press down on Shen Zechuan’s head, but Shen Zechuan bit down on him. He felt the stab of pain, but did not make a sound.
Outside, Tantai Hu had clued in on the key point and was getting all antsy, so he asked, “Does Master not want me to return to Libei anymore?”
The tip of Shen Zechuan’s nose edged along the curves of Xiao Chiye’s contours. Xiao Chiye wanted to draw his legs back, but Shen Zechuan was wedged in the middle, and Xiao Chiye could not flip over the table and scoop the latter up. They had not done anything last night. Xiao Chiye, keeping Shen Zechuan’s injury in mind, had simply fallen asleep after shaving Shen Zechuan clean. And now the hot puffs of air the latter was breathing into him were making him hard.
“You are a native of Zhongbo. The trusted aides under your command are also natives of Zhongbo. We spoke about it before—” Xiao Chiye composed himself and continued after a moment’s pause, “back in Qudu.”
His tongue was slippery.
Xiao Chiye tilted his head back slightly and carefully swallowed back that little sigh to keep it from escaping. He was inside Shen Zechuan’s mouth when he heard Tantai Hu fall to his knees with a “thud”.
The corners of Shen Zechuan’s upturned eyes misted over with water from having taken Xiao Chiye deep into his mouth. He raised his eyes to look at Xiao Chiye in this position; the viciousness in them all but turned into glistening waves of ripples that intensified Xiao Chiye’s desire to bite him. Palms Xiao Chiye had nowhere to rest edged up along Shen Zechuan’s chin before finally coming to a stop at the back of Shen Zechuan’s head.
“Don’t cry.” Xiao Chiye said in a raspy voice. “Continue.”
Tantai Hu choked back the tears that had just spilled over and said as he kneeled outside, “Mas… I followed the Viceroy for five or six years, and it was all due to the Viceroy’s promotion that I could lead the troops. After we left Qudu, it was the Viceroy who trained and nurtured me throughout. When you told me to keep the camp defense layout in mind back then when we fought the Shasan Camp in Libei, I thought you wanted me to remain in Libei and guard the camps on your behalf. So why are you leaving me in Dunzhou now?!”
Xiao Chiye could not help but loosen his collar. The waves of pleasure crashed over him and sent tingling sensations up the small of his back. All he could think of was to make Shen Zechuan cry until Shen Zechuan could no longer stir up a storm.
Credits: thank you vibird for spotting typos and to Tea for proofreading! <3