THE FLESH OF A SWAN

Chapter 11

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In an interrogation room, the suspect confessed his motive for and method of committing his crime. The case ended there, and the detectives involved could take a break.

Xie Han checked the calendar. It was about time for Shen Wenjun's heat again.

There was some regularity to an omega's heat, but it wasn't a completely routine cycle shared by all omegas. Most omegas went into heat once a month, but Shen Wenjun didn't. It may have had something to do with his alpha bloodline.

His heat periods were extremely hard to track. He didn't experience them on a monthly basis, and the symptoms weren't completely unbearable. With suppressants, he could proceed with life as usual, so even Shen Wenjun himself didn't bother to pay much attention to his heat schedule.

But Xie Han had diligently recorded all his heats. According to his logs, Shen Wenjun's heat came around approximately once every ten weeks, and the average time that passed between his hearts was sixty-eight days.

Xie Han would always find a way to free up his schedule in the few days before and after Shen Wenjun's heat was expected to arrive. He would make all the preparations, but he never mentioned any of this to Shen Wenjun. Each time, he only waited silently for Shen Wenjun's call.

He was like a devout believer from ancient times, patiently and piously waiting for his beloved deity to call upon him.

Shen Wenjun didn't require intercourse to get through every one of his heats. If he could get through with suppressants, he would get through with suppressants. Unless it was absolutely necessary, he wouldn't open his legs to Xie Han.

But an omega's heat period was truly hard to bear alone. Even one with as resolute a will as Shen Wenjun couldn't always resist temptation.

And so, for every ten of Shen Wenjun's heats, Xie Han could lay hands on him on seven or eight occasions.

All he needed to do was be prepared to show up whenever Shen Wenjun needed him. Betas couldn't compete with alphas. He had to seize every opportunity, and he had to make sure no alpha could ever take advantage of Shen Wenjun.

But he had never fully satisfied himself. As he'd promised Shen Wenjun, he acted only like a male tool that could help an omega cope with their heat.

Originally, he thought they would be able to continue that relationship forever. Even if it lasted for the rest of his life, he wouldn't have minded.

 

Shen Wenjun saw Xie Han's car in the garage when he got home, so he knew Xie Han was home as well.

Shen Wenjun felt a bolt of displeasure strike his heart. He'd heard from a colleague that Xie Han's case had been wrapped up earlier that afternoon. A colleague! Xie Han hadn't been the one to tell him.

What was going on here? Not only did Xie Han not tell him the case was closed, Xie Han hadn't even told him he was coming home from work?

Shen Wenjun parked his car and stormed upstairs in a rage.

Xie Han's bedroom door was open, and Shen Wenjun heard the sounds of movement from inside, which meant Xie Han was awake. So Shen Wenjun was sure he could march right in.

Shen Wenjun stomped over to the doorway. Just as he was about to speak, he saw a half-empty cardboard box sitting on the floor. Xie Han, wearing a tank top and jeans, was in the middle of packing his things.

When Xie Han saw him, he breathed a laugh. "Why are you back so early?"

Shen Wenjun had practically gone blue in the face. "What are you doing?"

Xie Han bent down, half-kneeling, and neatly arranged his things inside that cardboard box. "Packing."

He gave this answer very matter-of-factly, like he was doing something perfectly normal and utterly unremarkable.

All of Shen Wenjun's nerves were set on edge.

Xie Han seemed to guess what Shen Wenjun wanted to say. He sat down and adopted what sounded like a humble tone as he explained, "You found my ring, didn't you? That makes you very uncomfortable, right? Truth be told, I never planned on letting you find out.

"But since you did find out, there's nothing to be done about it. You must feel very awkward around me now. I saw how red your face was that day. You looked like you could never accept it.

"So wouldn't it be awkward and discomfiting if I continued to live in your home? It's better if I move out."

Shen Wenjun stared.

All of Xie Han's words were very reasonable, courteous, and kind. There was nothing wrong with his word choice or his tone. But there was something about his words that made Shen Wenjun's heart stop.

He instinctively wanted to lie and blurt out, I'm not uncomfortable.

No matter what, he wanted to first make sure Xie Han would stay.

But Xie Han continued talking. He reassured, "I'm just moving out, that's all. I plan on finding a place near the precinct, and the prosecutor's office would be nearby as well. It'll still be convenient for you to find me if you need me. Everything will be the same as it is now. We just won't be living together."

Xie Han seemed to be saying that he wouldn't go far.

But an intense wave of intuition was rising in Shen Wenjun's heart—

He couldn't let Xie Han leave. This was just the beginning of the end. If he let Xie Han go now, Xie Han would inevitably slip farther and farther away.

Shen Wenjun scrunched up his face and walked over to Xie Han. Xie Han was sitting on the floor, like a big, dejected hound. Shen Wenjun looked down on him from above and said, "No. Don't move out. Put everything back."

Xie Han didn't move to comply.

Shen Wenjun felt like it was getting harder to breathe. He drew a deep breath, but it didn't do anything to alleviate the sharp pain in his chest. He stooped down and unpacked the things in the cardboard box one by one, randomly stuffing them back into any free spot he could find in the room.

He hadn't actually paid attention to how Xie Han had organized his room before. A new wave of remorse rose from his heart. He suddenly regretted never taking a serious look at this good friend who'd been at his side for so many years.

Shen Wenjun moved too hastily. He lost his grip, accidentally dropping a metal box.

The box hit the floor, and the lid popped open. All sorts of things spilled out from inside. A small pen holder. A pen with its ink reservoir half-filled. A used eraser. An expired tablet of medicine. And so on and so forth.

It looked like a bunch of miscellaneous junk that didn't have any practical, immediate use. Even the metal box the items were stored in was a repurposed gift box that had once contained some chocolates. It looked like it had been opened frequently; the paint at the edges was already starting to chip away.

The box looked a bit familiar to Shen Wenjun, but he couldn't remember why right away. He only vaguely recalled that he'd seen this packaging at the supermarket in his junior high school days.

It was a design that had fallen out of production a long time ago.

Xie Han sighed and knelt down, carefully picking up every stray item and putting each one back inside the box.

"This box," Shen Wenjun said. His voice came from above. "It's from the birthday gift I gave you during our second year of middle school."

"Mm," Xie Han confirmed. "These are all things you gave me."

"…you like me."

As those words fell from his lips, Shen Wenjun saw a beam of golden sunlight fall through the window beside Xie Han. Dust in the air danced on that sunbeam, drifting without ever landing.

Xie Han picked up the box and took two steps back to sit down at the edge of his bed. He didn't confirm or deny that he liked Shen Wenjun. Instead, with a bit of weariness weighing down his voice, he said, "I don't want to be the means to an end in someone else's happiness."

Shen Wenjun suddenly felt a soreness spring into his eyes. "I never thought of you as a means to an end."

"I know," Xie Han said. "In my heart, you're number one. I felt that way about you even before you presented. Whether you're an alpha, beta, or omega doesn't matter—I would always have fallen for you.

"But I'll never be an alpha in this lifetime. I'll never be able to smell your pheromones."

Xie Han smiled. "This recent case was timely, in a way. It made me a little bit scared of myself. These days, Teng Rui has been messaging me. He secretly told me… he told me you're his fated omega."

Xie Han lifted his gaze. The light fell across his eyes, but couldn't seem to reach the bottom of the depths his gaze contained. Without the slightest hint of humor in his voice, he said, "Little Jun, I'm jealous as hell."

Shen Wenjun was silent for a moment. Then he said, "I fired him. I told him not to come back to the office."

Then he added, "At the very least, for my part, I'll never take the initiative to see him again. Even if he comes to see me, I'll avoid him."

And then, Shen Wenjun firmly added one more word.

"Stay."

"Stay and continue to be your friend?" Xie Han asked.

Shen Wenjun approached him. In Xie Han's eyes, it looked like he was walking himself to the sacrificial altar.

With some hesitation, Shen Wenjun said, "…when I woke up this morning, my heat had started."

He reached out and took Xie Han's hands. His heart was still beating wildly and erratically against his ribcage. He suddenly didn't know how to express himself clearly.

All that mattered was keeping this person here with him.

For the first time in their lives, Xie han refused him. "No, Little Jun. You take your time and think about this. Clear your head. Before you make a decision, I won't touch you again. What I wanted has never been to just help you pass your heats.

"What I want is to make love to you."

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