The lingering light was erased by the rapidly cascading night and the once lilac and salmon sky faded into a vast stretch of inky blackness that shrouded the city. A canopy of brilliant stars freckled the sea of blackness while the cold wind brushed against the water’s surface, creating ripples that ruffled the stillness of the surface and bringing along with it the faint smell of the river.
Xiao Li had sat at the riverbank for quite some time, smoking the same stick of cigarette – unable to find any other place to go and he had somehow wittingly brought himself here. As he looked at the serene water, he discovered that there was no difference between it and the car dashboard’s surface and neither made him and neither lessened the stifling sense of desperation still etched deeply within him.
He looked on, somewhat lost in his thoughts – someone approached the rail. Xiao Li did not move until the soft steps came to a stop at a spot not too far from him.
“Xiao Li,” the person finally called out.
Xiao Li recognized the voice. He turned and let his eyes fall on that person’s beaten silhouette before he spoke angrily: “Didn’t I already say that I will take it as I don’t know you? Don’t tell me you want another beating?”
Qi Xiuyuan shook his head, looking as though he wanted to explain himself before he eagerly said, “I didn’t know you were here. I just wanted to come for a walk. I… before… before, didn’t we come here often?”
Those words silenced Xiao Li and he got up with the intention to leave.
“Xiao Li,” Qi Xiuyuan retreated a step. “If you don’t want to see me, I will leave.”
Xiao Li watched him a second with a cigarette still hanging loosely from his lips.
Qi Xiuyuan remained still, not daring to move until he suddenly heard Xiao Li’s low voice.
“What do you like about me?”
Qi Xiuyuan was shocked to hear that as he looked at him with a desolate expression.
“I’m a man,” Xiao Li spoke again.
“I never took you as a woman,” Qi Xiuyuan replied immediately.
Xiao Li sneered, “Then could it be that you fancy my dick? Or could it be that you want to fuck me or be fucked by me?”
“It doesn’t matter, I’m fine with anything.” Qi Xiuyuan took two steps forward, keeping his eye on Xiao Li and then he started to take off his clothes. “What I like is you. As long as you’re willing to, it will be fine no matter who does who.”
Xiao Li could not help but speechless since he did not expect him to answer back like that. He watched Qi Xiuyuan removed his own shirt and was about to take off his pants – his nerve tightened and what remained was a horrible headache that made him curse out.
“Fuck off! I don’t want to accompany a crazy bastard.”
With that said, he sat back down at the riverbank and inhaled the smoke irritably.
In truth, Qi Xiuyuan himself didn’t even know why he had run here in the middle of the night. But once he arrived and noticed that familiar silhouette through the dim lighting, he became excited and couldn’t help but think, could it be, he’s concerned because of me?
With that kind of thought, he remained still.
Although Xiao Li’s tone was cruel and the wound inflicted on his body still ached, his footsteps refused to take him away. He silently watched Xiao Li and saw the empty beer bottles which made it harder for him to leave or turn a blind eye.
He thought for a second then said in a low voice, “Aren’t… you supposed to not drink?”
Xiao Li sat with his back facing him, not saying anything. The water cast speckles of light that illuminated his skin one moment and then faded the next, leaving behind a bold and stubborn line that contoured his figure – it looked as though he was a papercut figure, shaded and concealed by the darkness yet wanted by the lights that settled on him.
Qi Xiuyuan looked at him in a daze, imprinting the scene before him into his brain. Perhaps, it was the aching that crowded his heart or perhaps it was the sight of Xiao Li in front of him again that aroused his feeling to come at him with full force – either way, he could not help but whisper.
“Xiao Li, I love you.”
Even though it was faint, Xiao Li could still hear it. “I said, fuck off!”
“I told you to fucking leave!” Xiao Li stood up, his own body emitting a dangerous aura as he walked toward him. “Didn’t I beat you up enough this morning?”
Contrary to what a normal person would do, Qi Xiuyuan pushed his luck instead. He stayed calm and let his eyes followed Xiao Li’s step, approaching him. “These injuries may hurt, but the majority of them aren’t serious. Xiao Li, aren’t you a man of the underworld? How come none of my bones are broken even after so many punches?”
Xiao Li stared at him in disbelief and then he laughed coldly, “I’ll break your bones now.” After saying that, he immediately kicked forward.
Caught off guard, Qi Xiuyuan retreated several steps until his back bumped hard against a tree trunk. Underneath the tree branches that shaded him in darkness, he hissed at the sudden pain but unexpectedly a smile filled his lips and a hint of joy played out in his voice.
The anger that rose in Xiao Li’s chest refused to yield, and with Qi Xiuyuan still spitting fire at him, he could not help but angrily approach him, bent on beating him to death.
The second Xiao Li set foot on the shadow of the tree, a hand stretched out and captured his arm, suddenly pulling him into a hug.
That move angered Xiao Li to an unprecedented level. When he wanted to strike back, Qi Xiuyuan tightened his hold on him.
Qi Xiuyuan’s embrace was firm, leaving no space between him and Xiao Li. He moved his lips close to his ear, “Sympathize with me, okay? Let me hug you for a while, I won’t do anything else. Xiao Li, Xiao Li, have pity on me.”
That voice was hard to describe: determine yet fragile, gentle yet unyielding with a trace of utter grievance. Xiao Li’s chest throbbed as a strange pang of fear rose relentlessly as he listened to him speak again.
“Don’t be angry at me. I didn’t intentionally lie to you… I just wanted you to like me. Ever since the first time I’ve met you… even if you’re a part of the underworld, even if I was afraid of being troubled, I still wanted you to like me…”
A burst of sadness pelted down on Xiao Li for no reason and surprisingly, he relaxed his body and stopped struggling.
Sensing that, Qi Xiuyuan’s happiness heightened. He no longer bound him tightly in his arms, instead, he loosened his arms and held him gently – feeling his breath and the warmth that transmitted between them.
Soon darkness enveloped them, and besides the sound of their breaths, all they could hear was the surging sound of the water and the light wind that brushed by.