Chapter 23 – Pillar of Nature (3)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
In the few times that they’ve met each other, Zhao has always felt the restraint adoration Shen has towards him. But for an unknown reason, once Zhao starts reciprocating, Shen retracts like a monk resisting temptations.
Zhao has never seen someone like Shen: gentle and benevolent, never argues with anyone, and treats everyone with kindness no matter who they are. He has the unique quality of a saint that is almost unworldly.
Zhao can’t seem to figure out anything about him.
Initially, Zhao thinks of a high-end clubhouse with a Western restaurant: the perfect place for a romantic date night. But Shen would certainly refuse, and personally, Zhao isn’t a fan of Western cuisine.
It’s not everyday that you get a chance like this one, so Zhao will not let him go easily. He puts on a relaxed facade, and brings Shen to the bistro he had already ordered from. He orders a bowl of wonton and a few popular dishes; the whole table is filled with steamy food.
At this hour, the shop is empty, and they are the only two people eating. Shen has yet to sit down, but he is feeling rather nervous and tense already.
Zhao makes small talk, and mentions Li Qian, “she confessed to killing her grandma; her father disowned her, and I heard her mother cried and passed out twice. Let’s hope the tribunal will be lenient, she turned herself in and confessed, so she might be able to get a lesser sentence.”
Shen remains silent shortly, and sighs, “I should’ve taught better.”
Zhao is dying of hunger; he gobbles down the food like a starving beast. With a mouthful of fried rice, he looks at Shen with an incredulous gaze; he can’t say anything, but his eyes convey the message: what does this have to do with you?
Shen looks down, and takes a sip of soup as if lacking appetite, “in the past when a student commits a crime, the teacher is punished as well; the goal of education is to teach good morals, and yet one of my students…”
The rest of the sentence is probably not very pleasant, Shen pauses, frowns, and doesn’t finish it.
What kind of nonsense is that, it’s not like we’re still in a feudal society! Zhao thinks.
But of course, he wants to appear educated in front of Shen, so he swallows that thought together with the fried rice.
Although Shen tries to avoid Zhao the best he can, when he is sitting with him he doesn’t seem annoyed at all, but rather at ease and comfortable. Also, Shen is considerate and caring; he pushes the dishes forward as Zhao extends his chopsticks, and pours both of them some tea.
Zhao immediately says, “I can do it myself.”
“It’s hot, don’t touch it.” Shen avoids his hand and pours him some steaming tea, “you’re eating too fast, it’s not good for your stomach.”
Zhao wipes his mouth, and pretends to be gentlemanly, “I haven’t had dinner, so I’m a little hungry; I usually eat very slowly.”
Shen smiles, and Zhao is about to say something; but suddenly, the table wobbles, and an unused bowl falls off the table. Zhao swiftly catches it; the lamp above swings about.
The trembling stops shortly. Zhao wants to say something, but his chest inexplicably stiffens, and he feels as if he were falling a thousand miles in a dream.
Something… something is coming out.
For god knows why, a voice says in Zhao’s mind.
Maybe the fried rice is a bit cold, or maybe the congee is a bit hot; after he rapidly stuffed all kinds of food down his throat, his stomach feels even worse than before. A sharp pain rushes from his stomach through his entire body, like stabbing needles.
“What’s wrong?” Shen asks.
“Ah…” Zhao curls up, elbows slamming on the table.
Shen supports his shoulder, “where does it hurt? Is it your stomach?”
But although he is unwell, Zhao still remembers to take advantage of the situation; he grabs Shen by the wrist, and half-intentionally touches the back of his hand, not softly and not heavily, a little seductively but perhaps unintentionally, and says with a nasal voice, “a little, you jinxed it.”
Shen doesn’t know what to say; he rapidly withdraws his hand, “… I will bring you some hot soup.”
Zhao can’t figure out whether Shen is shy or uninterested, so he sits upright with a gentle smile, pretending to be decent. But soon, karma strikes, and his stomachache grows more severe; he can’t help but curl up, and his forehead is wet with a cold sweat.
Of course, he still manages to stealthily call the waitress for the bill.
Shen brings back a hot wonton soup, Zhao only drinks a little, and waves his hand; he really can’t drink it. His lips are turning pale.
Shen looks at his face, “should I bring you to the hospital?”
Zhao forces a smile on his face, “this is nothing, why would I need to go to the hospital? I have medicine at home.”
He tries to stand up, holding the table, but quickly falls back down on the chair.
Shen’s expression becomes serious, “no, you have to go to the hospital.”
Zhao presses against his stomach with one hand, and pulls Shen back with the other, “they will force me to have a gastroscopy, it’s really painful; please, I don’t want to be tortured.”
“Besides, I want to bring you to watch a play tomorrow, I’ve already bought…”
“Return it.” Shen interrupts him, and helps him get up carefully, “I am not going… excuse me, can I have the…”
Shen has yet to say “bill”, and the waitress hands him the receipt and change.
These courting tricks… Shen glares at Zhao, and thinks: you deserve to die of stomachache.
Zhao looks down at his shoes and smiles pervertedly.
Finally, due to Zhao’s determined refusal and extreme disagreement, Shen has no choice but to bring him home.
It’s his first time in Zhao’s apartment. The lights are not on, and he trips on an open umbrella. Winter in Dragon City isn’t a rainy season, the last time it rained was over a month ago; only someone as lazy as a mushroom can leave the umbrella on the floor for that long.
On the shoes cabinet is a bag of clothes from the laundry shop; it was delivered two days ago.
Shen looks around in the room further, and sees a bunch of clothes scattered on the couch, and heaps of books and a laptop computer occupying the bed; there is not even space to sit, let alone lie down.
Shen silently looks at Zhao, puts him in a tiny space on the couch, and starts cleaning up the bed.
Zhao curls up on the couch, painfully and ecstatically gazing at Shen’s beautiful legs; his mouth watering.
Shen turns around, “where do you put these usually?”
“On the bed during the day, on the floor at night.”
Shen sighs; he does that a lot whenever he sees Zhao.
He swiftly piles up the books on the desk, and puts the computer on the nightstand, “come on, lie down, I will get the medicine… where is it?”
Zhao points at a small cupboard below the desk.
Shen carelessly says, “get in bed and take off your cloak.”
Zhao hesitates, “if I take it off you might say I take advantage of you.”
Shen touches his forehead, which is covered in cold sweat. Shen can imagine how painful it is, and his heart wrenches; he’d rather endure the pain for him. But the jerk who’s cared for only knows to bullshit with an annoying giggly face.
… Really feels like a waste of affection; Shen’s face grows stern, “stop that nonsense and take it off.”
Zhao immediately rips off his cloak and pants without restraint, and stands in front of Shen heedlessly in his pajamas, with half his chest uncovered.
Shen’s face reddens at an instant.
Zhao shamelessly shows off his physique, “you told me to take it off.”
Shen rapidly looks away, sets the pillow in place and spreads out the rolled up duvet, “give me the cup, I will help you pour… Zhao Yunlan, why are you bare-footed!?”
Zhao sits on the bed, takes off his shoes, and Shen sees his freezing feet.
Zhao says regardlessly, “I was just going out for a quick meal, if I wore socks I’d have to wash them…”
Shen grips his feet, though his hands are cold, they’re still much warmer in comparison. Zhao is startled, and tries to retract, but Shen grabs hold tightly, and starts massaging an acupoint.
“No no no… wait, I… I… I haven’t washed my feet… AH!!”
“Now you know it’s painful?” Shen frowns, “you never take care of yourself; your bad habits give you a weak stomach, and you…”
He suddenly realises his tone is too intimate, and lowers his head in silence.
Zhao’s feet are beginning to feel numb, but he must keep his cool in front of Shen, so he swallows the pain and pretends to be calm. Miraculously, his feet start warming up and relaxing, and Shen puts them under the duvet.
The Professor hands him the medicine, pours him warm water, and watches him gobble it down.
The two men have nothing to say; the atmosphere is rather awkward.
Zhao’s pajamas really suit his slutty self: there are only a handful of buttons, and the collars open all the way down to below his ribs; he presses against his stomach, and Shen can barely see his beautiful abs.
He forces himself to turn away, and starts looking around in the room; he sees the leftover bread in the rubbish bin, and asks, “What did you eat today?”
Zhao lies on the bed, and points at the bin.
“Only that? For the entire day?” Shen’s face darkens, “What about last night?”
“Last night I went out with a few friends; we drank a lot, I don’t remember.”
Shen almost can’t control his anger; he stays silent for half a minute, and lowers his voice so that he doesn’t sound too furious, “You live like this everyday?”
Shen sombrely glances at him, and silently walks over to the kitchen. He opens the fridge, and stares at all the empty space inside. Then, he takes out an expired carton of milk… and half a bag of opened cat food.
Zhao is seriously getting on Shen’s nerves; veins pump up on the back of his hand, and the refrigerator door squeaks as his hand clutches.