MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 81

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Summer clothes were light and thin. They couldn't do much to hide an injury, especially since Ming Shu was wearing shorts and a tank top.

After hanging up, Ming Shu grabbed the key to the apartment and ran downstairs. His heart pounded in his chest like thunder. Electric shocks ran through him. The fiery desire he'd felt earlier was all but smothered out.

He could tell that Xiao Yu'an's voice had been different than usual. It wasn't just his voice, either. His mood was clearly different. Ming Shu thought that was because they hadn't seen each other in too long.

Ming Shu ran and ran, until he turned a corner and nearly barreled headfirst into someone.

He slammed on the brakes, but the other person reached out. They didn't duck or dodge. Instead, they pulled Ming Shu into their arms.

Ming Shu's eyes widened with excitement. He instantly called out, "Ge!"

He had yet to notice the wound on Xiao Yu'an's leg, but Xiao Yu'an had already spotted the fresh scab on Ming Shu's arm.

Xiao Yu'an furrowed his brow. "What happened to your arm?"

Ming Shu glanced at his forearm. He instantly put on a wounded expression and softened his tone to complain, "Ge, I fell off a wall, and I nearly scraped off a whole patch of skin. It hurt a ton!"

Scraping his skin had indeed hurt, but the pain had passed a long time ago. When the doctor sprayed his wound with medicine, Ming Shu hadn't made a peep. It was only now, in front of Xiao Yu'an, that he put on a petulant, whiny act.

He wanted Xiao Yu'an to pity him, and to comfort him.

"I hurt my waist when I fell too," he added. Just having Xiao Yu'an's concern over his arm wasn't enough. Ming Shu hurriedly lifted his tank top, exposing the bandages on his waist. "The doctor says I have to keep it wrapped for another week."

He'd turned around to show off his wound. With his back to Xiao Yu'an, he didn't notice the way Xiao Yu'an's gaze was already darkening.

"But I earned lots of badges, both for individual and team achievements," Ming Shu boasted as he tugged the hem of his tank top back down. He turned back around and proudly asked, "Ge, do you want to see them?"

Xiao Yu'an was staring at him. Ming Shu felt a sort of fuzziness bristling in his heart. He couldn't help but feel that today's Xiao Yu'an really was different, in some way.

Ming Shu had seen what Xiao Yu'an was like after missions before. He was always more tired and reserved than when he was on standby with his team. This time, Xiao Yu'an's gaze was still as reserved as it usually would be after a mission. But Ming Shu felt as though he could see something within that sense of serenity.

He studied Xiao Yu'an intently, until suddenly—he came to a startling realization.

Desire!

He was almost certain he could see a plain, straightforward sort of desire in Xiao Yu'an's eyes.

Ming Shu subconsciously took a step back and shook his head. He was pretty sure he was imagining things. Xiao Yu'an had just gotten home, and Ming Shu had also just gotten home. They were both exhausted. How could Ming Shu expect to see desire in Xiao Yu'an's eyes at a time like this?

"Ge…" His throat had gone dry, and he trailed off after uttering that one sound, unsure of what else he wanted to say.

Xiao Yu'an's piercing gaze was searingly hot on the scab on Ming Shu's arm. Ming Shu felt almost uneasy. It was as though he could see something coming, but he didn't dare admit to himself what that was.

He pulled back his arm and lightly rubbed his other hand over the scab. "Ge, don't just stare at me. You went out on another mission, right? I don't even know if you've been hurt. Were you? Were you injured?"

Xiao Yu'an nodded.

Ming Shu jumped, instantly stricken by a bolt of fear. Xiao Yu'an didn't look like he'd been hurt. Ming Shu had rushed out of the apartment earlier with his heart in his throat, full of worry. But when he saw Xiao Yu'an standing in front of him, looking perfectly healthy, he'd put those worries away.

But now, with Xiao Yu'an nodding, Ming Shu's panic rose again. "What injury? Where are you hurt? Show me!"

Xiao Yu'an avoided Ming Shu's attempts to claw at his clothes. His pupils were still darkened by intensifying shades of desire. His voice was deep and low as he said, "Let's go back first."

Ming Shu was out of his mind with worry. As soon as they got back inside their apartment, he wanted to check Xiao Yu'an's wounds.

But he was no match for Xiao Yu'an.

His back hit the door with a heavy thud. He opened his eyes wide and stared up at Xiao Yu'an with a pure, innocent fog of confusion in his eyes. "Ge?"

His forearms were trapped in Xiao Yu'an's grip. Xiao Yu'an's rough palm was pressed to the fresh scab on his forearm. If Xiao Yu'an exerted just a little more force, he could have easily split the wound open again.

Xiao Yu'an gazed at this person before him, this person who trembled out of excitement, worry, desire—or perhaps something else entirely. And suddenly, Xiao Yu'an felt a hint of irritation at himself.

Ming Shu had always stood beside him. He'd tried every trick in the book to seduce Xiao Yu'an. He was shy in many ways, but his desire had always won out over his shyness.

And Xiao Yu'an obviously hadn't been unaffected. Yet he'd staunchly denied Ming Shu's advances all this time.

He'd touched Ming Shu, and he'd kissed him. He'd let Ming Shu touch him and kiss him in return as well. He suddenly realized he'd acted like a complete disgrace, like he'd only been lying to himself.

He'd always thought that his actions would be morally justifiable, as long as they didn't take that last step.

But what kind of morality was that?

If he really wanted to continue being a moral, upstanding gege to Ming Shu, he should have pushed Ming Shu away completely.

But he couldn't do that. He'd been seduced by Ming Shu a long time ago. Ming Shu was spoiled because Xiao Yu'an had spoiled him. For the rest of his life, Xiao Yu'an would be responsible for this clingy little thing.

He pressed Ming Shu back against the door. He held Ming Shu's arms down with one hand and caught Ming Shu's chin with the other. He moved to kiss Ming Shu, but before their lips touched, Ming Shu surged up to meet him halfway.

They'd always fit so well together.

It was as though Ming Shu was ready and willing to meet him halfway, with every step he took.

And from now on, Xiao Yu'an would be ready and willing to fulfill every one of Ming Shu's desires too.

 

Discarded clothes and a long, white bandage littered the floor.

Ming Shu didn't dare sit up. He rolled onto his side in bed, letting out a hiss of pain.

The thick, strong scent of mint clung to his skin. It had enveloped him earlier, when Xiao Yu'an carried him into the bathroom to clean up.

Ming Shu's legs were like jelly, so Xiao Yu'an had supported him while cleaning him with their mint-scented body wash. Already, Ming Shu found himself missing the sensation of Xiao Yu'an's touch—even though it had only been a short while ago that Xiao Yu'an explored his whole body.

Sore legs and an aching back didn't stop Ming Shu from playing the part of the spoiled lover. They should have gotten out of the shower after rinsing off the suds once, but Ming Shu picked up the bottle of body wash and insisted on having Xiao Yu'an lather him up again.

Xiao Yu'an murmured that he was bossy, but Ming Shu only plastered his face to Xiao Yu'an's shoulder and mumbled incoherently. Xiao Yu'an lightly slapped the small of his back, then indulgently started to work the body wash over his skin again.

If they hadn't spent so long in the shower, Ming Shu wouldn't smell like one giant mint leaf now.

Xiao Yu'an was still in the bathroom. Ming Shu got out of bed, stark naked, to fetch his bandages.

His gege had thoroughly worn him out that afternoon. He was still injured, and yet Xiao Yu'an had torn away his bandages. The scab on his forearm had split open as well. Blood had trickled down his wrist. Xiao Yu'an had kissed the end of that streak of red, then followed it up with his tongue, licking away every bead of blood.

Ming Shu's wound had started to hurt again. It hurt even more than when he'd just cut his arm. The kiss that had been pressed to his wound burned, making his heart race.

After picking up his bandage, Ming Shu went back to the bed. He couldn't sit, so he knelt on the bed and tried to wrap the bandage around his waist again.

But his hands were suddenly slow and clumsy. He couldn't get himself wrapped back up.

His arms were sore too. His gege's grip on him had been too strong. Red handprints remained, littered all over his arms.

If he couldn't get his bandage wrapped again, forget it. He would wait for his gege to do it for him later.

After tossing his bandage aside, Ming Shu smiled to himself, grinning and giggling almost like a loon.

During the summer after his second year of high school, Ming Shu had been rejected. That was when he'd decided to stop thinking of Xiao Yu'an as his gege. He thought only of Xiao Yu'an, Xiao Yu'an. He'd even changed Xiao Yu'an's contact information in his phone from 'Gege' to his name.

But starting that afternoon, Ming Shu was willing to call Xiao Yu'an his gege again.

It was only when he couldn't have Xiao Yu'an that he'd insisted Xiao Yu'an was Xiao Yu'an, not his gege.

Now, he had Xiao Yu'an. He didn't have to insist so hard anymore.

Xiao Yu'an was his gege, and his gege had fallen in love with him.

When Xiao Yu'an returned to the bedroom, he found his shorthair cat grinning on the bed. He walked over and pinched Ming Shu's cheek. "What's the stupid smile for?"

"Ge—" Ming Shu was so tall and handsome. When he was out and about, he was already every bit like an idol that could be worshipped by countless fans. It was only at home that he became a soft, gooey brat. As soon as Xiao Yu'an approached, Ming Shu wrapped his arms around him and propped his chin up on Xiao Yu'an's abdomen. "Ge, you ruined my bandages."

Xiao Yu'an glanced at the discarded bandages, then went over to fetch a fresh roll from their first aid kit. He brought over a bottle of ointment as well, then patted his legs.

Ming Shu's cheeks reddened. "You want to do that for me? I can do it myself…"

Xiao Yu'an patted his lap again. "Come here."

The flush in Ming Shu's cheeks deepened. The bottle of ointment was unmarked. Ming Shu made the mistake of thinking Xiao Yu'an wanted to massage a… certain part of his body.

That would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn't it?

In the end, he squirmed over and lay in Xiao Yu'an's lap.

Only to hear Xiao Yu'an ask, from above, "What are you pointing at me?"

Ming Shu froze for two seconds, then yelped and nearly sprang out of bed. "That's medicine for my waist?"

Xiao Yu'an's voice was tinged with an obvious smile. "What did you think it was for?"

"Nothing! My waist, I also thought it was for my waist!" Ming Shu insisted, hastily scooting back a little. "Ge, what kind of medicine is that?"

Xiao Yu'an didn't expose Ming Shu's obvious fib. He patiently applied the ointment and massaged Ming Shu's waist for a while, before finally wrapping up his injury in fresh bandages.

By then, the flood of desire had started to subside. Xiao Yu'an looked at Ming Shu's waist and the broken scab on Ming Shu's forearm, and realized that he'd gone too far.

They were both injured, and injuries in their line of work could so easily be fatal. Xiao Yu'an had already been teetering on the brink of a total loss of control. Their wounds had ignited a fiercer wave of desperation, breaking through the last threads of his self-restraint.

Xiao Yu'an could only make things right by dearly, fiercely loving the man in front of him.

"Ge." Ming Shu rubbed a hand over his own stomach. "I'm a bit hungry."

Ming Shu was genuinely hungry. He'd expended far too much energy during his training camp, and he hadn't eaten after getting home. Now, after spending the whole afternoon rolling around in bed, his stomach was well and truly starving.

Xiao Yu'an carded a hand through Ming Shu's hair. "What do you want to eat?"

Ming Shu wanted to eat just about everything. He listed out countless dishes, but ultimately emphasized that they had to have edamame, no matter what.

Edamame boiled in salted water. Mint popsicles. And chilled watermelon. These were still the most lasting memories from his childhood, spent in the shade of the Xiao family's courtyard.

He wanted a boyfriend, and he wanted a gege too.

He was greedy, and greedy people didn't like multiple choice questions.

He wanted it all.

They only had rice in the house. Xiao Yu'an got dressed to make a trip out to the local market. One second, Ming Shu was lazing around in bed. The next, he was hopping out to pull on a shirt. He insisted on going out with Xiao Yu'an.

"You really want to come with me?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Doesn't it hurt to walk?"

"Don't underestimate me!" Ming Shu proudly jutted out his chin. Light flashed through his eyes.

Xiao Yu'an helped him straighten out the collar of the shirt he'd put on. "Do you have to wear my dress shirt?"

Ming Shu's ears burned. He'd deliberately put on Xiao Yu'an's dress shirt. Although it was a little too big for him, it filled his heart with joy just to wear it.

"You won't let me?" he asked. There was a hint of petulance in his tone, which snuck in without his notice.

Xiao Yu'an smiled. "Even if I say no, haven't you already put it on?"

The two of them bantered back and forth as they stepped outside. Ming Shu didn't bring anything, except himself.

It was late afternoon. The sun was sinking towards the horizon. The summer heat still hung heavy in the air, and a swath of reddened clouds stitched together the earth and the sky.

The shops and stalls of the night market were already being set up. The streets outside their neighborhood grew crowded and noisy.

Xiao Yu'an and Ming Shu drifted through the summer heat and the clamor, making their way towards the nearby market.

Ming Shu wore his ge's dress shirt, wrapped up in the mint-stained scent of his youth.

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