The scent of blood was a little faint, but Song Ci’s nose was sensitive, so he caught a waft of it when Rong Bai drew nearer to him.
Rong Bai released Song Ci’s hand upon hearing this. He was about to speak when he saw Song Ci take a step forward and stretched half of his body out, exposing his sturdy chest.
Song Ci asked, “Are you injured?”
Rong Bai retreated. But when he saw that Song Ci still had the intention to climb onto the bank, he extended a hand to press down on his head and pushed him back into the water. He chuckled. “Wash yourself well. When you are done, come to the palace to look for me.”
With that, he turned to leave. But Song Ci felt uneasy.
Song Ci could not think of why Rong Bai would be injured. Was it during the time he was dealing with the ferocious beast? Or did it happen earlier?
He lost the mood to soak in the hot spring. After guessing in the water for a while, he quickly went ashore, picked up his clothes, and put them on in a hurry. On the way, he called out to an immortal attendant at random to lead him to Rong Bai’s chamber.
Actually, it was pretty easy to identify. The most exquisite and magnificent one within this palace was naturally Rong Bai’s residence. There was a row of immortal attendants waiting for orders at the entrance.
Presumably, Rong Bai had left instructions in advance, so no one stopped Song Ci when he entered the hall. He gently pushed open the door and saw silks and satins winding around the beams with lanterns hanging from them. A screen1 taller than a man lay across the hall. A white nine-tailed fox was howling with its head raised on the screen.
Song Ci watched as the attendant behind him closed the door. Then he took two tentative steps forward, cleared his throat, and probed, “Rong Bai?”
“Hm?” A faint voice rang out from behind the screen. “Come over.”
Upon hearing this, Song Ci sidestepped the screen and looked behind it. He saw a water bucket2 carved out of white jade behind the screen. Rong Bai was sitting in it. The white mist rising from the water swirled around his defined collarbone and blurred his face.
Song Ci instantly came to a stop beside the screen.
Rong Bai’s body moved, and Song Ci immediately averted his gaze. But then he found it strange. We are all men here. What’s there to hide from?
He forced himself to twist his neck around and look at Rong Bai. But just as he laid his eyes on those well-defined arms, he abandoned his intention.
This feeling was really strange. What he was doing was open and aboveboard, but Song Ci inexplicably felt as if he had a guilty conscience.
While he was struggling with himself, Rong Bai had already stood up from the bucket. He draped his wide white robe around him and walked barefoot towards him. Song Ci hurriedly moved to let him pass.
The instant he did so, he saw, to his shock, that the bucket of water Rong Bai had been soaking in had turned cloudy and reddish as if it had been contaminated by blood. It dumbfounded him.
As Rong Bai walked past him, he said, “There’s something on the table. Bring it over.”
Perplexed, Song Ci swept his gaze to the side and saw a white table not far from the screen. The table was empty except for two porcelain bottles3 and a pile of gauze.
He could tell at a glance this was something used to bandage the wound. His heart skipped a beat. Rong Bai was indeed injured.
He could not help but quicken his pace as he bundled up everything in his arms. His voice deepened. “Where are you hurt?”
Rong Bai lazily walked over to take a seat at the chair cushioned with snow-white fur. His robe slipped to the ground, exposing the two shocking scars that were the results of a whipping on his back.
The two wounds intersected with its skin flayed and its flesh, torn. They were still bleeding. It was because the lower parts of those wounds had been submerged in the water that the entire bucket of water had been stained red.
It was evident at a glance that these wounds were not caused by that beast in the daytime. Song Ci’s heart sank. He wanted to ask what happened, but he held himself back and wordlessly put down the bottles at the side. Then he asked in a low voice, “How do I apply them?”
“Apply the ointment first, then the powder.” Rong Bai answered.
The savage wounds extended all the way to his waist. It cut so deep into his flesh that his bones were visible.
With deeply furrowed brows, Song Ci searched around the room for a cloth to dampen. He gently dabbed them over the wounds to wipe the fresh blood clean. Then, he twisted open the porcelain bottle and dug out a lump of white ointment to apply on Rong Bai’s wounds.
Song Ci used minimal force on him, not daring to exert too much pressure for fear of hurting him. But Rong Bai did not even twitch. It was as if he could not even feel the pain from those wounds.
By the time Song Ci was done applying the ointment, his forehead was drenched in sweat. He wiped them away with his sleeve, then opened the other porcelain bottle to dust the fine powder over the wounds. It was only after he had done all these that he picked up the gauze to bandage them.
Song Ci’s body was almost sticking to Rong Bai’s body when he wrapped the gauze under his arms and around his chest. He could feel the heat of Rong Bai’s body through his robe. Song Ci’s ears inexplicably burned. With quick movements, he secured the gauze with a knot on Rong Bai’s back.
“Are you willing to remain in Tu Shan?” Rong Bai asked after Song Ci withdrew his hands.
“Huh?” Song Ci was momentarily confused. “Didn’t you already bring me here?”
“That’s why I’m feeling a little guilty now…” Rong Bai elegantly draped his robe around him. “This place is like a massive cage.”
Song Ci thought for a moment before asking, “Isn’t this your home?”
Rong Bai turned around. Those pretty eyes of his looked inexplicably downcast. But he made a feeble attempt to mask it, and that emotion dimmed until it was indiscernible. “A home I want to destroy even in my dreams.”
Song Ci froze for a moment before it dawned on him. Rong Bai’s relationship with the Tu Shan clan was not like the typical relationship between kin. He did not seem to like Tu Shan, so much to the extent that he was even expelled from Tu Shan for some reason.
He looked into Rong Bai’s eyes and caught sight of the glimmer of hope in them. So he replied, “I don’t want to remain in Tu Shan. I just want to be where you are.”
This was the truth. After all, he had come all the way here for Rong Bai.
He did not expect Rong Bai’s eyes to twinkle when he finished his words. Rong Bai gazed fixedly at Song Ci for a long time before finally showing him a bright smile. “Can we sleep together tonight?”
Song Ci, “???”
“Why?” Song Ci asked. “There is only one bed here?”
“No.” Rong Bai replied, “I just want to sleep with you.”
Song Ci’s heart gave a sudden thump as the heat rushed from his ears to his head. He stammered, “Sleep… sleep with me? We… that’s not really appropriate, is it?”
Rong Bai cast him an uncertain look. “My bed is bigger.”
“Even so, we can’t sleep together. That’s… illogical.”
“Illogical?” Rong Bai asked, perplexed. “How is it illogical?”
Song Ci himself did not know why it would be illogical for the two men to sleep together. He had merely said it offhandedly. He scratched his head. “I’m used to sleeping alone.”
After hearing this, Rong Bai responded lightly, “Oh.”
Song Ci thought that this matter would blow over. He was about to heave a sigh of relief when he heard Rong Bai continue, “But I want to sleep with you.”
Song Ci looked at him in surprise. He did not expect him to be so persistent in this matter. But then, he noticed that Rong Bai’s gaze had turned docile. There was no sign of that alienating apathy or even a trace of that intoxicating smile.
He was like a fox acting like a pampered child. But the intent on his expression was obscured as he stared fixedly at Song Ci, waiting for him to agree.
Song Ci felt as if he had succumbed to a mysterious spell under that gaze of his. He suddenly felt as if he was too contentious. Theirs was clearly an open and aboveboard friendship, so what’s there to make a fuss over sleeping together on the same bed?
Thus, he smiled and showed his pearly whites. “Sure! No problem!”
A pity that this magnanimity did not last long. Both of them lay down together. In order not to press down on the wounds on his back, Rong Bai turned to sleep on his side, facing Song Ci.
As if he was exhausted, Rong Bai fell asleep pretty fast. He had only just closed his eyes for a moment when his breathing grew steady. On the contrary, Song Ci lay awake with widened eyes.
He touched his chest stealthily, only to find that his heart was pounding hard. He could not help but rebuke himself. There was not a place he had never slept on all these years he was wandering around. He remembered the time he had rather squeezed in with a bunch of beggars just so he could sleep on a clean, dry spot. Even so, he never had such a reaction like this.
Song Ci was puzzling over it when he felt a pair of warm hands feeling him from behind. His eyes widened even more as he turned his head for a look. Rong Bai was still sound asleep. He subconsciously inched towards Song Ci again.
Song Ci was like the only heat source that had appeared under the covers on a winter day. One which Rong Bai kept drawing closer to.
After a minuscule struggle, Song Ci did not dare to move anymore. For one, he was afraid of startling Rong Bai awake. Secondly, he was afraid of causing Rong Bai’s wounds to tear.
But the moment he stopped struggling, Rong Bai’s actions grew bolder. Eventually, he scooped Song Ci into his arms and buried his head in Song Ci’s neck. Song Ci felt his hot breath on his skin. He instantly froze.
“…” Song Ci spoke in a nasal voice, “Rong Bai?”
However, there was no response from Rong Bai. Song Ci tentatively nudged him with a hand, only to hear Rong Bai let out a growl of displeasure.
So, Song Ci gave up struggling.
The prickling sensations from Rong Bai’s hair made Song Ci’s neck ticklish. He twisted his neck, not expecting Rong Bai to react. But Rong Bai embraced Song Ci even more tightly. As he nudged against Song Ci, he took a deep breath of Song Ci’s scent and let out a pleasured sigh.
Song Ci forced himself to breathe softly for fear of jolting Rong Bai awake.
He felt as if a warm fox fur coat had enveloped his entire person. Rong Bai’s scent was familiar and pleasant. Song Ci knew that this was the same scent of the blood flowing in him. The knowledge of it put him at ease.
If it were as Feng Zhuojun said, that the blood of the heart was equivalent to the inheritance of one’s bloodline, then he would also have the ability to pass on the Tu Shan’s bloodline. Who knows what kind of relationship he would have with Rong Bai in the future?
Could they be father and son like everyone thought? Or were there some other possibilities?
Song Ci thought about it until his face reddened. He recalled the time he had just come to Dongwang and saw a pair of men snuggling up to each other right there on the streets. Then, there were the brazen marriage ceremonies to celebrate the union between men. It seemed that the long-time exposure to these influences had made him come to accept the love between men.
As time went on, his body gradually relaxed, and he slowly melted into Rong Bai’s arms. His mind calmed down as he lay amidst the warmth until he fell asleep.
Just as Song Ci was sleeping comfortably, he suddenly felt a chill on his legs. It startled him awake from his dream. To his shock, he realized that he was no longer lying on the soft bed. Instead, he found himself in a shallow shoal.
The water was only up to his ankles, and it was bone-chilling cold. He glanced around in a panic, only to find himself in an exceedingly foreign environment. There was not a single spot around that felt familiar to him.
“Where is this place?” Song Ci could not help but raise his voice to ask, “Is there anyone there?”
“Who are you?” Soon enough, he received a response.
Song Ci swiveled his head around and saw another person standing among the expanse of tranquil water. He shifted his gaze over and connected with a pair of azure blue eyes.
屏风, a single screen or folding screen that typically serves as a partition, e.g., before the bed and so on.
In the old days, people used a big wooden bucket or basin as a bathtub for bathing. But obviously, Rich Young Master Rong’s bucket is made of jade.
Medicines in liquid or powder form were often stored in small, portable porcelain bottles. (Ignore the lighter, it’s just there for size comparison.)