Gongliang Ye stared at the human man that was still holding him with a silly smile. He couldn’t say that he regretted his choice. No, the sex had been good, especially after such a long time. He was merely worried about what the future might bring.
When it came to this kind of union between a human and somebody related to the spirit realm, it seldom ended well. He knew that from first-hand experience. So just because this guy was currently satisfied and not showing any signs of aggression, that didn’t have to mean anything. No, when he woke up an hour or two from now, things might be completely different.
Gongliang Ye sighed. He only lay there for a couple of minutes before he pulled out of Zhan Cheng’s arms. It would have been nice to sleep in somebody’s arms for once, especially after being intimate with them, but he knew better than to expect something like that to work out.
He picked up his clothes, got dressed, and then retreated behind his counter. Maybe it wasn’t smart to be there considering that he would have a wall in his back and only one way out which was the furthest away from the door. But at least he could keep a few things close at hand to defend himself with if things got ugly. Also, he felt a false sense of safety whenever standing there. Maybe that was because he usually interacted with humans from there.
Having found his place, he started to get busy, preparing some ingredients that could be used later. He kept an eye on Zhan Cheng though just so he would be aware when the other man woke up.
Zhan Cheng didn’t wake up anytime soon. No, he very happily slept for a full three hours before he started to stir. He moved his shoulders, a faint smile still on his lips before he reached out to pull Gongliang Ye closer.
His eyes sprang open when he couldn’t find anyone next to him. He abruptly sat up, looking up to the table, half-expecting Gongliang Ye to be sitting there, then turning to the tub on the platform in case the witch had decided to take a bath but he wasn’t there either.
“Uh …” Zhan Cheng wanted to call out but then realized that he wasn’t sure how to call him. Sure, he had heard his name before but … well, Gongliang Ye sounded too unfamiliar after sleeping with each other. Should he just call him Ye? Ah Ye? Ye’er? Xiao Ye? Well, he was sure the witch wouldn’t appreciate the latter.
Gongliang Ye had no idea what kind of dilemma Zhan Cheng was currently in. He didn’t care either. He just kept a watchful eye on him, making sure that he wouldn’t suddenly jump up and get violent.
Zhan Cheng rubbed his neck and then pulled up the blanket that had fallen when he sat up, covering himself. He thought for a moment and then reached out to grab his clothes, hurriedly putting his pants back on, not wanting for things to seem strange when Gongliang Ye came back. When he finished, he turned to look at the door, wanting to see if maybe he had gone outside only to find Gongliang Ye standing behind the counter looking at him.
He froze and then, the tips of his ears turned red. “Ah … You’re … You were there. I woke up and …” He broke off, not sure what to say. Seeing Gongliang Ye, he felt even more unsure about things. How to greet him? What to do now? Should he go over and pull him into his arms for a kiss? It kind of seemed like the appropriate thing to do with your lover but he also wasn’t sure if he actually had the status of a lover yet. It would’ve been nice to just wake up with the witch still in his arms. Then, he wouldn’t have been as doubtful.
He looked around, trying to find some kind of inspiration but couldn’t see anything. Finally, he could only go for something that seemed innocuous. “Oh, I’m surprised you’re already up again.”
Gongliang Ye just continued to look at him. “Not fully human, remember?” He wasn’t sure what to make of Zhan Cheng’s reaction. It was … well, it kind of fit the men who had awkwardly tried to court him by giving him the most practical gifts but it still wasn’t expected based on the things he experienced in the past. And he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that.
“Oh.” Zhan Cheng nodded and then hastily put on the rest of his clothes before he went over to the counter and propped himself up on it. “Well, …” He didn’t get any further. Things were really too awkward. He just looked at the witch, hoping that maybe his gaze could communicate something he couldn’t say with words.
Gongliang Ye also looked at him and realized that most likely, he didn’t need to be worried about being attacked. Clearly, this guy didn’t have any malicious intentions. He thought for a moment and finally lowered his gaze, continuing with his current task. “Do you want to eat something before you leave?”
Zhan Cheng actually hadn’t thought of leaving but when Gongliang Ye put it like this, he felt that he probably should. In any case, everything had been pretty spontaneous today. Maybe the witch needed some time to himself to think about everything. “Well, if you don’t mind. I would love to!” Just one meal together shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Gongliang Ye nodded and then walked past him, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that nothing strange happened. Zhan Cheng continued to stand at the counter though, just looking at him like the lovestruck fool he was.
Gongliang Ye felt a bit better about things and went to cook some rice. He threw in a few pieces of the dried rations that Zhan Cheng had brought him before. A while later, he put a steaming bowl on the table, motioning at it. “Well, help yourself then.”
Zhan Cheng looked at the bowl and then at Gongliang Ye and couldn’t help but feel strange. “Aren’t you going to eat with me?” He had thought that this would be something they did together. But it currently didn’t look like it.
Gongliang Ye glanced at him, feeling that this part was really unexpected. Even if this guy didn’t get aggressive, was there really a need to get this close to a witch? But then again, what was one meal?
He glanced at the counter and clicked his tongue. “Well, I guess I can still finish that later. Let’s sit down then.” In any case, with the table between them, he also didn’t need to be as worried. And maybe this guy wouldn’t be comfortable with having him stand behind the counter where it would be between him and the door.
Zhan Cheng smiled brightly and immediately took his seat, happily taking the bowl while he continued to watch Gongliang Ye.
The witch filled a bowl for himself as well and then sat down opposite him, giving him a questioning look. He wasn’t really sure what to make of this. It seemed … strange. But in any case, with a bit of time, it would become more apparent what to make of this. He picked up his spoon and then started to eat, not saying anything.
Zhan Cheng watched him for a moment longer, admiring the way his hands moved and the features he had just seen from up close. His ears reddened once more when he thought of what had happened between them and he hurriedly lowered his head and started to eat.
Gongliang Ye hadn’t spoken much in the whole time that he knew him now save for when he had explained the matters of the spirit realm to him. So it really wasn’t unexpected that he would still be like this after … well, after sleeping with him. Having sex wouldn’t miraculously make him more communicative, right? Anyway, having a quiet moment to themselves was also nice.
The two of them quietly finished the meal and Gongliang Ye got up to put the bowls away while Zhan Cheng awkwardly stood there. When the witch turned back around, he found Zhan Cheng still looking at him.
He tilted his head faintly, his eyes narrowing. “I thought you wanted to leave after you were done.”
Zhan Cheng nodded and then stepped toward him, reaching out.
Gongliang Ye straightened up, ready to either defend himself or evade only for Zhan Cheng to freeze in the motion.
He had no idea what Gongliang Ye was thinking but that wasn’t quite the reaction he had expected. Then again, maybe Gongliang Ye had regretted what happened? That thought was like a bucket of cold water.
He had thought it had been so beautiful. The touch of their skin, the ragged breaths, the … union of their bodies. If he thought back to those moments, his heart would speed up and a smile would grace his lips. But maybe that was only him.
Zhan Cheng rubbed his neck, not sure how to phrase what was going through his mind. But he knew that he had to say something. Otherwise, things would just get more awkward between them and he wasn’t willing to risk that. He wanted this to work. If Gongliang Ye didn’t want to … he’d have to accept that but if there was anything he could do to make it possible after all, he wanted to know. “Did … you not like it with me?” He looked at him worriedly, not sure what to expect.
Gongliang Ye stared at him, confused at that question. “What do you mean?”
“I mean … was it bad? Or … do you regret doing it? I just … I don’t want to pressure you. I just thought … well, I liked it very much.”
Gongliang Ye still stared, finally realizing that this idiot hadn’t wanted to attack but wanted to do something else. He gestured at him, his expression slightly opening up. “Well, what was that supposed to be?”
“A hug? Or would you mind if I kissed you?” Zhan Cheng felt odd saying that. He had thought that even if they weren’t lovers yet, they were at least close enough for that, right?
Gongliang Ye looked as if he had some kind of other thoughts about that though. Zhan Cheng didn’t know what to make of that. He rubbed his neck again, wondering if he was just that bad of a lover. Maybe what had been incredible to him had been a bad experience for the other man? It sure looked like it right now.
Gongliang Ye sighed and then took a step toward him, grabbing him by the lapel and pulling him close. He pressed his lips onto Zhan Cheng’s and remained like that for a moment before he pulled back and pushed him slightly. “Well, there you go. You can leave now.”
Zhan Cheng nodded, completely in a daze from the sudden kiss. He didn’t think that he could call that affectionate but, well, it was probably the most he could expect from Gongliang Ye. Thus, he nodded and then left the hut, not without turning back around to look at the witch two or three more times.
Really, this … had been beautiful. He couldn’t wait to see him again even though he had hardly left. He just didn’t know if Gongliang Ye thought the same. Right now, it sure didn’t seem that way.
When he had closed the door, he stood there for a moment before he took the steps and made his way back to the town. The whole way, he couldn’t help but think about what had happened.
The curve of Gongliang Ye’s neck while he arched his body, his trembling lashes hiding his eyes, how soft his skin had felt beneath his fingers, the nails scratching his shoulders, the ragged breaths in his ears while he loved him … All of that was etched into his mind.
He had to see him again.
At the same time, Gongliang Ye was sitting at his table, completely befuddled. His last time had been quite some time ago and it had made him believe that it would be the last time in his life.
The man back then had been another patient of his. Not one that had gotten into contact with the spirit tribe but had been suffering from a normal ailment. The physicians hadn’t been able to help him so he finally came to him. And while this wasn’t what he usually did, he still tried to help. Well, it had worked. After a couple of months, the man had been healthy again. And after being healed, he had also embraced him, quite similarly to Zhan Cheng today, just that the final outcome had been different.
That man, Gongliang Ye had known that he was married but he hadn’t paid that any heed. How many men out there were tied down with a woman not because they wanted to but because it was expected of them? Their families wanted heirs or maybe they themselves wanted the political influence the family behind that woman could give them. In any case, there was no love involved.
Those men, they might take in concubines if they had the money, or they would go to the brothel to get a taste of what they wanted for a few hours. Some would also start an affair outside and he had never believed that whatever relationship he would have with that man to be anything but that. He had just wanted to have some fun while it lasted and fully expected to go their separate ways after it became inconvenient for either side.
He never would have thought that the fun would hardly last an hour.
When they had finished and laid in each other’s embrace, the mood took a turn. The man had stared at him, his gaze somewhat disturbing. Gongliang Ye had realized that something was amiss at the very same moment. He had grown cautious but not cautious enough. When he asked him what was going on, the anger had broken out.
The first few sentences spilling from his lips were only a blur. Even now, when he tried to think back, Gongliang Ye couldn’t recall them. He only remembered that it had been something about his wife, about faithfulness, and honor. A load of bullshit, if he was asked.
But then came what would haunt him for the rest of his life: Those eyes had stared directly into his, blazing fury contained in them, and he had said ‘It is all your fault’. Gongliang Ye hadn’t understood and he also hadn’t had the good senses to get away, even though he felt his hair rise and a sense of foreboding.
‘You caused all this. You put a spell on me while you pretended to heal me, causing me to do this. It’s all your fault! You ruined my life!’ And saying so, the man had taken a dagger from who knew where and attacked him.
Gongliang Ye reached up, touching the scar running across his nose and the fainter one not far off his lips. He could probably count himself lucky. He had managed to turn his head. Otherwise, he would have been blinded, he had no doubt about that.
He would have liked to pretend that he didn’t understand what had led to this but, unfortunately, it was rather obvious: Once again, he had been seen as tempting, as something exotic to be tasted. But then fear had set in. Fear of what might happen after sleeping with a witch, fear what might happen if his wife and her family found out, fear what others might think, and that he may be ruined.
And that fear had driven him to want to end it. Instead, he had found his own end and Gongliang Ye had needed to pack his things, flee, and settle down far away, hoping that nobody from that place would ever find him.
Well, a long time had passed so he didn’t doubt that the danger of that happening was over. He had a new life now and the past was in the past, only a few scars serving as a reminder of it all.
But even though he didn’t have to worry about that any longer, he had still worried about how any future encounter might turn out. He just hadn’t been able to imagine that getting intimate with another man would leave him unscathed. But this Zhan Cheng … No matter what, it seemed that he wasn’t necessarily bad.
For one, he didn’t look down on him for what he was and he hadn’t seemed afraid of him for being a witch from the time they first met. Although that part rather made him feel that Zhan Cheng was an idiot but that was still better than a dangerous lunatic that would blame him for his own actions.
No matter what, he shouldn’t overthink this. They had slept with each other once. That didn’t mean much. Whether that interest would hold was a different matter altogether. he honestly didn’t think it would. And even if Zhan Cheng came back for more, he could go along with it as long as he didn’t show any signs of aggression. He just had to prepare for the worst case. If that never happened … well, then he would have a much nicer memory of his last time being intimate with a man whenever it was over.
Thinking of that, Gongliang Ye sighed himself, and then got up and walked back to his counter, starting to process herbs again. Sometimes, he really wished that he hadn’t been born like this. Between the spirits and the humans, it wasn’t a good place.
If you were human, you could live among them without trouble. Usually, you wouldn’t even know about the spirit world. In some instances like when Zhan Cheng had gotten possessed by the ghost, he could still seek help from somewhere and get rid of it and then return to that normal life of yours.
On the other hand, if you were a full-blooded spirit, usually, it also wasn’t too bad. You would live among your own people and while humans would fear you, you didn’t need to interact with them either. So what was the problem with that? It might become difficult if you got interested in somebody from a different tribe but how often did that really happen? Probably not that often.
Witches like him though? Well, he knew how it was. You wouldn’t be welcome at either place. No matter what you did, it would always be seen as wrong. The humans would fear you, the spirits look down on you, or at least you were too different to be together with anyone for a long time.
The one relationship in his life he had thought might actually work out had been with a man from the spirit tribes. Actually, he had believed that they might be a good fit. That man had been a loner just like him, somebody who lived further apart from his tribe.
Usually, that should have been a good sign. But while he lived alone and wasn’t that enmeshed with them, his tribe was still his people. And his people had some opinions on him being with a witch. In the end, it hadn’t worked out.
Thinking back now, it wasn’t like he didn’t understand. They probably just hadn’t been made for each other. But it had still hurt. In any case, a man of the spirit tribe was still safer than a human going by the times when he had actually gotten involved with one of them. The humans were the ones who would turn against him, not the spirits. To them, he was … more of a nuisance than anything else.
Gongliang Ye sighed to himself and put away the herbs, feeling that he shouldn’t consider this too much. In any case, was it really that important? He should have some fun while it lasted and not think too much.
He looked around the hut, wondering what to do for the rest of the day, and his gaze stopped on the tub. He hummed to himself and then went to pick up the bucket, slowly filling it.
It had been easier when Zhan Cheng was there to do it. When it was he by himself, this kind of task was arduous. He couldn’t deny that when it came to physical strength, he was lacking. He was able to recover faster than a human but most of the time that didn’t mean that he didn’t feel the drain.
It took quite some time until he finished but he didn’t regret it. He had thrown some herbs in that had started to fill the hut with their scent while the water warmed up. Gongliang Ye threw off his robe when the last bucket had been poured, stepped inside, and sank down, closing his eyes in satisfaction.
Ah, a hot bath was one of the greatest joys in life. Really, what was so bad about being alone? At moments like these, another person would just be an annoyance that you needed to take into consideration.
No being alone was much, much easier. He definitely wouldn’t regret it when things went back to normal after this guy lost interest as well. Although, it would have been nice if he had been there right now to help him scrub his back because he himself was too lazy for that.