Twelve months later, Gongliang Ye was lying in his bathtub, his naked feet balanced on the rim while he was leaning against the other side, one hand brushing over the edge next to him. The traces of Zhan Cheng’s fingernails that had dug into the wood when he banished the ghost could still be seen there, proof of the time they had just gotten to know each other. In the other hand, Gongliang Ye was holding a stick with candied hawthorn that he nibbled on every now and then. His thin eyes had narrowed, and he was listening to the sounds of his lover busying around below the platform, stacking up some more wood to make sure the fire wouldn’t die out.
A moment later, Zhan Cheng finally straightened up and brushed over his forehead that was coated with sweat, giving Gongliang Ye a bright smile. “Is it comfortable like this?”
Gongliang Ye gave a hum, taking another bite of the tanghulu. To be honest, this was exceptionally nice. For once, he didn’t need to be the one to go and carry all that water to fill the tub and he also didn’t need to be the one to stack the firewood, get the fire going, and making sure that the water didn’t run cold before he was finished relaxing. He had even been given food to munch on. What wasn’t perfect about this? “Are you sure you’re not trying to fatten me up?”
Zhan Cheng blinked his eyes and then looked at the pair of feet in front of him, wondering how Gongliang Ye had come up with that thought. Not that it wasn’t true. He had definitely tried his best in the last twelve months to do exactly that but it hadn’t helped much. Maybe there was slightly more meat on the witch’s ribs but he still looked pretty bony. By now, he had to admit that, most likely, part of Gongliang Ye’s looks in that regard might also be because he wasn’t completely human. “Well, if I was, would it be that bad?”
The witch eyed the candied hawthorn in his hand and then took another bite, not answering that question. Getting fattened up or whatever … he didn’t care either. It was just that his lover constantly bringing over food was something that was hard to miss.
For a moment, the two just remained like that, Gongliang Ye relaxing in the water while Zhan Cheng awkwardly stood there, looking at him.
Finally, Gongliang Ye shifted to the side, raising his brows at him. “So, after all this work, are you just going to stand there?”
Zhan Cheng stared at him in return, not quite sure how to react for a moment. “Do you … want me to scrub your back?”
“Are you going to get in the water for that or are you going to awkwardly stand out there for the rest of the time?”
Zhan Cheng gave an awkward laugh and then hurriedly took off his clothes, putting them down at the side before he climbed into the tub and then moved to Gongliang Ye’s side, waiting for him to turn around so he could help him wash.
The witch didn’t bother though. Instead, he just continued to lean there, eating silently.
Zhan Cheng looked at him, not sure whether he should say something. He wasn’t in a rush or anything but the water would get cold in a while.
Gongliang Ye just continued with what he had been doing before he finally stopped when he got to the last part of the tanghulu and held the stick in front of Zhan Cheng’s face. “Have some.”
Zhan Cheng took the stick, not quite sure what to make of this. “Don’t you like it?”
“I do. But it’s not like I need to eat everything that I like, is it?”
Zhan Cheng wasn’t sure what to make of that but he still took a bite at least.
Gongliang Ye nodded, happy with that. The one problem with Zhan Cheng was that he had this wish to make everything perfect. He would work himself to death if he got the chance and still not forget to stuff him at the side so he wouldn’t go hungry.
And while it was nice to be taken care of, he wasn’t that selfish that he would let things go on like this forever. In any case, after this much time, he also realized that most likely, this human wouldn’t leave him alone anytime soon. No, he should probably start regarding him as part of his life.
At first, he had wondered how long he should wait to make a decision like that. Back when he had been with that man from the spirit realm, they had barely made it to two years. After that, it really hadn’t been possible to keep going.
Now, with Zhan Cheng, he had thought that maybe after that amount of time, he would know more. But then again, he couldn’t wait that long without feeling like he was stringing him along. Waiting some time was fine but two years was likely too long.
In the twelve months so far, there had been nothing he could complain about. Zhan Cheng was thoughtful, considerate, always doing things with him in mind. He was very observant as well, making sure that he always got things right, slowly learning about his preferences.
On the other hand, he himself couldn’t say that he really knew that much about Zhan Cheng. Zhan Cheng seemed like the kind of guy who would give you the best pieces of a meal and then just eat the leftovers, not caring too much. But if this was supposed to last, it should be different. He shouldn’t just let him go with the scraps. No, they should at least go half and half.
Watching Zhan Cheng eat the rest of the candied hawthorn, Gongliang Ye finally sighed and then turned to the side, propping his elbow up on the rim of the tub while he rested his cheek on his hand. “You’ve been running over here every single day, often enough staying the night. By now, why do you even bother returning to the city?”
Zhan Cheng looked up, needing a moment to recover, and gulped down the rest of the tanghulu before he hurriedly put away the stick and turned to Gongliang Ye. “That … Do you mean to say that I could just stay here?”
It had sounded like that. He didn’t quite dare to hope for that though. Because so far, it had always been him trying to take steps to further their relationship and never Gongliang Ye. The witch would usually go along with it but he never took the initiative. So this … it was really surprising.
Gongliang Ye once again gave him a look as if he was an idiot but Zhan Cheng didn’t mind. In any case, in the past year, he had gotten a lot of these looks. In a sense, that kind of made up the witch’s charm. He admired just how much Gongliang Ye knew about the world despite living in the forest so far away from everyone. So really, being treated like an idiot every now and then just highlighted what he liked about him.
He smiled brightly, and then inched closer, grabbing Gongliang Ye’s hand. “You’re really inviting me to live with you, aren’t you?”
Gongliang Ye’s gaze turned slightly softer when he saw his enthusiasm. “Well, if you’d like. You are already here most of the time so it’s really not that different.”
“You’re just saying one thing but meaning another. Actually, you really want to live with me, don’t you?” Zhan Cheng leaned in and grabbed his chin, giving him a kiss. “Well, if you ask me like this, of course, I want to! Just give me a few days to take care of everything in the city. I’ll … I’ll sell the house. I guess it isn’t needed anymore. And I should probably also see what I can do with the other things I still have. There is some stuff that I should bring over here.”
Gongliang Ye gave him a long look, feeling that this guy was really going all out now that he got the chance, didn’t he? “Rather than selling it, why not have somebody else live there for some time and pay for that? There will always be some travelers even in these parts who need a place to stay. It’d be better for you.” After all, even though there hadn’t been any problems in the past year, that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be any in the future. If they really broke up, it would be much better if Zhan Cheng still had his own place to return to.
Zhan Cheng had no idea what Gongliang Ye was thinking about but he just nodded, feeling that as usual, he was right. “Well, then I’ll do that! Still, I have to get my personal belongings over here. I guess it will take me a few weeks. You don’t mind, do you? I’d ask you to help but I’m not sure what the other people in town would say and I guess you wouldn’t want to go there either.”
Gongliang Ye gave a hum and then leaned back, his body getting submerged deeper in the water. “Well, I’m pretty sure that by now, they will have figured out that there’s something going on between us. You’re not really the subtle kind.”
Zhan Cheng chuckled but didn’t mind it. “Well, not everyone can be like you.”
Gongliang Ye glanced at him but didn’t say anything to that. Yes, he probably wasn’t the most outspoken person. He couldn’t deny that. But in any case, that was alright. He didn’t need to be. “Well, you talk enough for two so I guess that’s fine.”
Zhan Cheng just laughed and then tugged at his shoulder, and motioned with his chin. “Come on, sit up, I’ll wash your back.”
Gongliang Ye sighed, wondering why he was so insistent on this. In any case, it would’ve been nice to just relax some more. But this guy apparently wasn’t able to see the beauty in doing that. Thus, he finally did sit up and just let him do as he wanted.
“You know, if I move in, don’t you feel like the space will get cramped? Especially when I bring my stuff over as well. Maybe we should add another room?”
Gongliang Ye glanced over his shoulder, brushing through his hair while he was at it. “I just asked you to move in today and you already want to remodel my hut?”
“Well, if I move in, it will be our hut, right? And I think that we should have some space. Just imagine if somebody comes to ask you for a favor in the future while I’ll awkwardly sit at the table. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like that.”
“Well, having a human there might reassure them.”
“Not if it’s not a fully clothed human.” Zhan Cheng leaned down and kissed his shoulder, actually getting a chuckle in return for that response.
“Well, that might indeed not help my reputation. Still, don’t rush into things. In any case, it’s autumn again. The weather is going to get cold. You can slowly gather whatever we need and then think about that when spring comes. It will be a nice new beginning. Until then, let’s just enjoy the time we have together in this way.”
“Let’s do that then.” Zhan Cheng kissed his shoulder again and then couldn’t help but tilt his head, his lips wandering higher to his neck. “You know, we could get a bigger tub.”
Gongliang Ye closed his eyes, his hands that had still been combing through his hair coming to a rest. “Actually, I’ve always felt it was big enough. But a bed might be nice.”
“It sure would be. Do we still need to wait for spring for that?”
“Unless you are able to magically make more space appear in this place?”
Zhan Cheng’s arms snaked around his waist and hugged him closer, giving a hum. “If somebody is able to magic anything into existence, I’m sure that would be you. If even you can’t, then I’m afraid that we’ll have to live with it for the time being. In any case, what was good for a year will also be good for another half a year.”
Gongliang Ye gave a hum and then leaned back further, resting against Zhan Cheng’s chest. “I guess that’s true. Anyway, there are alternatives.” He turned around and wrapped his arms around his lover’s neck, his fingers brushing through his hair.
Zhan Cheng gulped and pulled him closer in return. “Would you demonstrate some of those for me?”
Gongliang Ye smiled faintly and then leaned down to kiss him, his wet hair brushing Zhan Cheng’s chest and making him shudder.
He hugged the witch tightly, then let himself fall back against the edge of the tub, pulling Gongliang Ye with him. As for that demonstration … he was sure to enjoy that, as he would all his time with Gongliang Ye. And he did not intend to ever let go of him no matter how long they would be given.
This is the last part of the SoN autumn story. I hope you liked the collection so far! Since I’m going to start posting my ace novel, The Seat of My Heart, next week, I won’t start the SoN winter story for now. Instead, we’ll first finish SeHe and then get around to that.