Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Lee, Kai, m@o, Marcia
Till Death Do Us Part chapter 23
...and a surprise!
...and a surprise!
When the water showed no signs of receding, the local government did not act and neither did the Japanese. Soon, the Tientsin Chamber of Commerce received appeals from major figures such as Ts’ao Ju-lin and Wu P’ei-fu recommending the creation of a self-rescue organization.
Six days after the disaster, the Chamber finally established the Tientsin Flood Relief Commission. There were some who participated out of genuine kindness, and of course there were those superficial ones who donated enough in order to buy themselves a good name.
That day on the boat, Ch’in Ching had been speechless after Shen Liangsheng’s question. He stayed in silence with the other man, watching the vulnerability leave his face. Eventually, the man he was familiar with returned and began to plan.
“You can’t stay at your house anymore, so come with me for now. I’m going to the factory later in the afternoon, but I’ll get someone to go to Hsiao-Liu’s with you. If their house is no good either, then get them to move to the house in Petite de Ceinture.”
After faltering, he continued,
“And if you don’t want to stay with me, feel free to move in with them.”
Still kneeling in the same spot as Shen Liangsheng spoke, Ch’in Ching watched as the man sat up and began rowing. The boat shot forward, and Ch’in Ching swayed along appearing a bit disoriented.
“Ch’in Ching.” Shen Liangsheng glanced at the man while rowing and added in a tone not quite cold but definitely stern, “Think nothing more of this than a friend helping another friend. If I have anything else to ask of you, I’ll tell you directly. But if I don’t, don’t fret about it.”
In the end, Ch’in Ching did not move in with Hsiao-Liu. First of all, the second-floor apartment did not get flooded but was a place so small it was a bit cramped with just the Lius there. The sisters had not married yet, so it would not do for Ch’in Ching to stay with them no matter how close they were. Second of all…Ch’in Ching wasn’t sure what the second thing was. He said he couldn’t leave with the man, but at the same time he felt that he owed Shen Liangsheng too much to ever repay him and felt extremely guilty.
The truth was that Ch’in Ching had no idea whether Shen Liangsheng was fine with him being around or would rather not see him so that he might have some peace of mind. In the end, he couldn’t figure it out and decided to ask the man himself.
Ch’in Ching asked quite vaguely, but Shen Liangsheng understood his true question and replied casually, “I’d worry if you stayed anywhere else, so just make do here with me in the meantime.”
It should have sounded a bit suggestive, but because of the man’s seemingly careless attitude, it truly seemed like a friend caring for another friend.
Thus, Ch’in Ching settled down in a guest room in the Shen manor. Shen Liangsheng got his hands on two more boats through connections, one for the servants to shop and one especially for Ch’in Ching. He even asked the secretary from the south, who happened to be a good swimmer, to supervise Ch’in Ching for a few days and make sure the man could work the boat before letting the man go out on his own.
Ch’in Ching helped move the Lius to the new place while also helping the school with transporting equipment and supplies out of the affected areas. As these two projects were wrapping up, he heard about the newly formed Flood Relief Commission. He had planned to help out at the Student Union, but before he could report it to Shen Liangsheng, the man came to him.
“If you have time, could I get you to come help out at the office?”
It was not an unreasonable request, and Ch’in Ching readily agreed. But only when he arrived at the office did he find that the job consisted of managing some paperwork for the Commission.
Ch’in Ching was no fool; he easily read the meaning behind this. It was likely that disease would develop from the flood. Shen Liangsheng probably did not want him to be in a populous place but was also hesitant to leave him alone with nothing to do, and thus the man found him this job.
And it was exactly because he understood that he felt even worse. The man was so good to him taking even the smallest details into consideration, but in the end he had let the man down.
The room Ch’in Ching moved into was the same one he had stayed in when he first came to this manor. Three years had passed. Not much had changed when he looked out the window, but he felt vastly different on the inside.
For the first few nights, Ch’in Ching would lie in bed with this nervous feeling mixed with shameful hope that the man might burst into the room any minute. He knew it was best that they not overstep the boundary. Yet, he secretly harboured hope….
He was kept restless at night by a desire to abandon all self-restraint one last time before either the man or he left. On the other hand, Shen Liangsheng appeared totally at ease, only interacting with Ch’in Ching as a close friend, not distant but never too close.
During meals, sometimes Ch’in Ching’s eyes would secretly stray from the food to the man’s fingers holding chopsticks, and the food in his mouth would lose its flavour. He simply yearned for the man’s voice, fingers, lips, and skin, but his remaining rationality would push these impulses away every time and remind him sternly,
This ‘one last time’ you are fantasizing would only end up hurting both of you.
The people of Tientsin fought with the expanse of water for half a month before, in late August, the water levels appeared to drop in some of the places with higher elevation. However, some people had already become ill. One would occasionally spot black smoke in the sky from houses, having lost their tenants to the disease being burnt down in efforts to disinfect.
One night, Shen Liangsheng attended a gathering he could not miss. The dinner was held on a pleasure boat. Some people had realized that the dance halls could not be reopened anytime soon and subsequently found recreational boats, hiring show girls for entertainment and parading the boats up and down the flooded streets every night. The bogus government did not restrict such crass activities but rather opted to make money off of them, collecting entertainment taxes and an additional watercraft tax per vehicle.
Sitting on one such boat, Shen Liangsheng exchanged polite small talk every now and then as he looked out at the water rippling under the illumination of the lanterns and of the moon.
“I say, this sight is comparable to that of the Ten Mile Ch’inhuai,” he heard another guest exclaim, and soon after, an interpreter translated it for the Japanese soldiers present.
Shen Liangsheng may have known little about the country, but even he knew that ‘Ten Mile Ch’inhuai’ referred to the scenery of the city of Nanking.
Nanking, the city that had been raped by the Japanese army.
If he were being honest, Shen Liangsheng would not call himself a good person. He willingly participated in the relief efforts despite the Shen factory’s losses due to the flood not because of a sudden sense of nobility but for selfish reasons. Firstly, it was to find Ch’in Ching a secure job. Secondly, he felt a sincere need to do something whenever he recalled the distress he had felt when he was searching for Ch’in Ching during the flood. Perhaps he had finally learned pain through this calamity and consequently felt empathy.
Although the philanthropy began on account of his own reasons, Shen Liangsheng was a perfectionist who followed through on his word. If he said he would, then he would do his best. Coincidentally, he had come to this gathering partly hoping to fundraise for the very cause.
However, he was now filled with doubt as he looked back at the guests on the boat after looking out over the ripples on the water. As though he were having an out-of-body experience, he observed the party taking place around him for the first time. Some of these people were Chinese, some Japanese, and some were his friends – it was the circle he had lost himself in for a long time. For all these years, he had let himself fall into this game of power and wealth. He was no different from them….
He was just as disgusting.
The singer at the front of the boat began singing “When Will You Return” as the man from earlier continued the topic. “You know what, this street and this water doesn’t look like Ch’inhuai but rather the Venice you see in magazines. Mr. Shen, you’ve studied abroad. Have you been there? How does it compare?”
“No,” he heard his own nearly bitter reply. “I’ve not been to Venice.”
That night, Shen Liangsheng left early with the excuse that he was not feeling well. Ch’in Ching was not in the lounge when he returned, so he went to the guestroom. He waited a few seconds after knocking but heard no reply.
The servants had said Ch’in Ching was home. His hand faltered on the doorknob before he slowly twisted it open. He saw the man sleeping on the bed with his clothes on, perhaps having been too tired, and the book that he presumably had been reading was lying on the floor.
Shen Liangsheng crept over quietly and pulled a light blanket over to cover the man’s stomach. He stood by the bed for a bit before bending down to pick up the book and place it on the nightstand. Then he tiptoed back out without switching off the lamp.
Shen Liangsheng closed the door behind him without a sound but did not stray far. He stayed in the hall leaning against the wall and took out his cigarette pack. The bitterness inside that he had been feeling for the past few hours had finally dissipated, replaced by tranquil and reassuring warmth from the lamp inside the bedroom.
Tonight he stood outside Ch’in Ching’s room just as he had many nights ago, smoking quietly, content simply to be in a place near the man. A maid walked by and, having noticed the master putting out the cigarette butts where he stood, felt awful about the floorboards. She hurriedly found an ash tray and swept up the ash and butts around him.
“I’m turning in for the night. You all may go to bed now,” Shen Liangsheng ordered in a soft voice. His tone was so gentle it made the maid’s hairs stand up and made her wonder what in the world had gotten into her master.
Shen Liangsheng stood in silence in the hall lit with a wall light, smoking one cigarette after another while the idea that had been under consideration for several weeks rose lazily along with the smoke up to the ceiling before circling around like a bird and finally settling down to solid ground.
When Ch’in Ching awoke, he glanced at his wrist watch with bleary eyes to find that it was past midnight. He wanted to undress before going back to sleep, but he froze after undoing just one button.
In reality, he could not have smelled any of the cigarette smoke from inside the room, but he was somehow certain that Shen Liangsheng was outside. His heartbeat began to quicken as he hesitantly walked towards the door. After several seconds, he finally reached for the doorknob and opened the door.
“Oh, you’re still up?”
Ch’in Ching peered at the ash tray in the man’s hand; it was obvious how long the man had been standing there from the number of cigarette butts inside. He was unsure of what the man was trying to do, but he was even less sure of how he felt about it. After facing the man for some time, he blurted out of nowhere, “I’m hungry. What about you?”
A smile appeared on Shen Liangsheng’s face, and the rare sight made Ch’in Ching’s cheeks flush. Luckily, it was dim in the hallway, so the man probably did not notice.
The servants had all retired, and there was nothing to eat on the kitchen counter. As Shen Liangsheng opened the icebox, Ch’in Ching was about to say any small snack would do when the man brought out a plate of wontons which the kitchen had probably prepared as the next day’s breakfast.
“Do you know how to cook wontons?” Shen Liangsheng asked as he found a pot to boil some water.
Ch’in Ching nodded, and the other man stepped aside, leaning on the counter watching him. It was not the case that the businessman did not even know how to boil wonton since he did live abroad for many years. He simply wanted to watch the man working at the stove, for it gave him a sense of being at home.
The two finished the food fairly quietly, after which Ch’in Ching volunteered to tidy up. Shen Liangsheng was standing by the sink watching the man wash dishes when he suddenly spoke. “Ch’in Ching, I want to sell the factory.”
“The joint factory with the Japanese. I don’t want it anymore.”
When he got no reply from Ch’in Ching, he elaborated,
“But there’s no one to sell it to now other than the Japanese. I don’t want to keep the money, either. Maybe I’ll donate it. I think you know what I mean. So maybe you could consult someone trustworthy about this for me.
“I’ll try to get the rest done as soon as possible. When you said autumn, which month did you mean?
“I was thinking if I don’t get it done in time that I’d go with you first and sort the rest out later.”
Shen Liangsheng had no idea that the place Ch’in Ching was planning to go to was Shanpei. He thought the man was just going down south to find a more peaceful region in which to teach. The man wouldn’t leave with him, so the only way was for him to go with the man since he didn’t want to be separated from him again. The calm exterior that he had exhibited lately was precisely because he had made up his mind and was able to find peace with himself.
“Shen Liangsheng….” Ch’in Ching paid no more attention to the dishes allowing the tap to run and the water to splash on his hands. The man was talking as though they were merely discussing what they were going to have for lunch tomorrow. Ch’in Ching felt as though the water was dragging his ability to think down the drain with it. Long minutes later, he managed to form a reply. “You really don’t have to…. I….”
Shen Liangsheng did not respond immediately, either. Honestly, even he was uncertain if Ch’in Ching still had feelings for him. His usual confidence had long abandoned him since the man said au revoir. He knew that although he had decided to go with the man, whether the man was fine with him coming along was a different story.
Shen Liangsheng understood that the man was trying to dissuade him, but he had already made up his mind. He opted to avoid the indirect rejection and, after moments of silence, spoke as though he had misunderstood. “If you meant the donation, I must confess that I have my own reasons for doing so.”
“No, I –”
“When I first returned, my father took me to listen to Buddhist lectures at Chüshihlin,” Shen Liangsheng interrupted and began talking about an old story as though he were talking a trivial everyday matter. “He believed in Buddha and even asked the lecturing monk to read my destiny. I didn’t believe in it, but I remember the monk telling my father behind my back…” He paused for a moment and then continued, “I can’t recall his exact words, but basically he said that he saw malice in my life, and if I don’t collect good karma I will probably meet a horrible end.
“Well, I didn’t believe this superstitious stuff before, but now I kind of do. So I think it’s time I did some good, and maybe then I will be able to live longer.”
Though he did not get any acknowledgement from the man, he pushed on,
“And another day alive means another day I get to see you.”
Because the tap was still running, Shen Liangsheng did not realize Ch’in Ching was crying. Only several minutes later did he notice. He shot forth and placed a comforting hand on the man’s back while using the other to close the tap.
Indeed, he had chosen his previous words partly in an attempt to rouse Ch’in Ching’s emotions, but the part about the fortune telling was no lie, and his last utterance was entirely sincere. However, he would have never said it if he had known it would make the man cry. Shen Liangsheng was patting his back, still trying to find the right words to cheer the man up, when he was pushed against the counter. The back of his shirt became wet from the water on the edge of the sink.
His lips were wet too with something faintly salty.
Ch’in Ching held the other man tight as he dove in for a kiss so deep his tongue could almost touch the back of the throat. Still, it was not enough. He rubbed against the man as though he wanted their two bodies to merge as one. The kiss was going out of control. Their teeth knocked against each other missing the tongue by a sliver of an inch.
Shen Liangsheng circled his arms around the man’s waist and let the man kiss as he pleased. Then he brushed his hands up and down his back in an effort to soothe the man and slow the tempo. He gently sucked on the man’s tongue, playing games with it and taking in the juices that oozed from it.
They stayed connected by the kiss for so long that they both began to feel lightheaded. It felt like a dream, for the last time they had held each other and shared a kiss was so long ago that they could not bear to part for even a moment.
Eyes closed, Ch’in Ching leaned on Shen Liangsheng. He was so engrossed that he forgot to breathe. Soon, his legs caved in, and he slid downward.
Shen Liangsheng caught the man by the waist and gave what might have been a chuckle before lifting the man up into his arms. The schoolmaster was skinny but was nonetheless a man not that much shorter than Shen Liangsheng. Yet somehow, Shen Liangsheng found the strength in himself to carry the man across the spacious lounge, up the staircase and into the bedroom, not letting the man down until he reached the bed. He soon joined the man there and began unbuckling his belt while locked in another kiss.
Welcoming the man, Ch’in Ching opened his lips but pushed himself up switching their positions. He pinned the man’s hands and asked in pants, “Shen Liangsheng, I want to….”
“Ch’in Ching.” Without waiting for the full request, Shen Liangsheng smiled and touched their foreheads together. He rubbed the tips of their noses with one another as he whispered his answer,
Something snapped in Ch’in Ching’s mind, and he had no recollection of how they stripped naked. What he did recall was the sigh of relief when they were at last skin to skin. He nipped Shen Liangsheng’s neck and began licking and sucking the teeth marks until red blots appeared. Then he moved downward, kissing down to the chest inch by inch, and latched on a nipple. First he scraped against it lightly with his teeth before nudging it around with his tongue.
Shen Liangsheng lay there letting the other man do as he pleased. He could sense from the man an overwhelming possessiveness. Ch’in Ching always had been quite passionate in the bedroom, but this was the first time he showed such possessiveness.
In that moment, Shen Liangsheng knew he need not worry whether Ch’in Ching still cared for him. His senses did not lie. He could feel the devotion and yearning coming so strongly from the man.
“I love you,” they said. “I want you.”
Ch’in Ching’s kisses trailed down to Shen Liangsheng’s tight abdomen, and his tongue traced the curvature of the muscles before dipping down along the waistline past the iliac furrow to lick at the hairs. He nuzzled the swelling member like a puppy trying to get attention from its master before taking it deep into his mouth.
The immense pleasure made Shen Liangsheng gasp aloud. He could feel the wet and warm mouth around him, the tongue gliding over his shaft and then moving further down. His perineum tingled from the stimulation, and his entrance twitched, as well.
He tried to relax as Ch’in Ching licked it and slid in a digit with his saliva as lubrication. He even lifted his bottom cooperatively as though offering himself as tribute – he wanted to open up his very being to this man withholding nothing from this point on.
Keeping in mind this was his first time, Ch’in Ching glanced up as he slowly slid his finger in and out, and asked softly, “Is there any Vaseline? I don’t want it to hurt.”
“That’s long gone,” Shen Liangsheng replied straightforwardly. “Maybe there’s something we can use on the dresser.”
Ch’in Ching rummaged through the dresser and found a bottle of what might have been face cream. He poured some onto his palm to warm it before pushing it into the entrance. Eventually, he could fit two digits in and cautiously slid the third one in. This entire process took nearly fifteen minutes as he feared causing Shen Liangsheng any pain.
Ch’in Ching’s erection had been standing tall this entire time, and Shen Liangsheng felt bad just looking at it, so he spoke up. “That’s enough. Are you coming in, baby?”
It had been so long since the man had called Ch’in Ching that, and his heart skipped a beat. He could no longer hold back. After taking his fingers out, he patted the man’s hips signalling him to turn over.
“Let’s just stay like this.” Shen Liangsheng took a pillow and tucked it under his hip. He even reached to the lamp on the bedside table turning it on. “I want to see you.”
Ch’in Ching did not reply but his face became even redder – which puzzled him. He was the one on top this time, so why was he the one being bashful? Meanwhile, his hands did not rest; he poured a bit of the cream onto his own member and spread it out before slowly sinking into Shen Liangsheng. While doing so, he kept eye contact with the man.
“Does it hurt?” he asked softly.
Shen Liangsheng shook his head, but his brows furrowed the slightest. His unfocused eyes looked back at Ch’in Ching rendering the latter utterly speechless and his heartbeat wilder and wilder.
Ch’in Ching knew it must have hurt, but at the same time, the sight before him was irresistible. It was just as he remembered – eyes like the misty hills in spring or still, silvery lakes at night, and long, fluttering lashes – and he could not help but plant feathery kisses on them.
“How can you be so good-looking?” He went as far as to demand an answer.
“It doesn’t hurt that much, really.”
Amused, Shen Liangsheng reassured the man while pushing his hips upward to tell the man to hurry it up. There were no promises as to who would be on top if this adorable behaviour continued any longer.
Ch’in Ching had yearned for it for so long that it almost seemed surreal now he was actually inside the man. He slowly rocked his hips while pecking the man’s lips, occasionally calling out his name between kisses.
Shen Liangsheng held Ch’in Ching’s head with one hand as their lips and tongues joined in an erotic dance with one another. The other hand was on the man’s waist and then trailed down to the place where they were connected caressing the man’s groin.
Not wanting to cause pain, Ch’in Ching had been holding back his desire to move faster but could no longer when his erotic zones were being stimulated so. He gave a few quick thrusts but stopped shortly. “Mhm…don’t….”
“You feel good?” Though his entrance felt painfully stretched, Shen Liangsheng could bear with it and still had strength left to tease Ch’in Ching not only verbally but physically. His one hand slid along the crack and slipped a finger in using the excess cream nearby as lubricant. He asked as he pumped it in and out a few times, “I bet this feels even better, huh?”
Lying on top of Shen Liangsheng, Ch’in Ching was completely enveloped by the man on one end feeling as though he would melt any second while the man was also inside him on the other end. Although it was only one finger and it did not reach the right spot, the stimulation added something extra to the act. He couldn’t suppress his wanton moans as he resumed thrusting, going faster and faster. His nipples perked up, and the man began squeezing them with his left hand. He felt as though he was on fire, and his hole twitched uncontrollably around the man’s finger.
“Did you miss it?” Shen Liangsheng brought Ch’in Ching’s hand to his swollen member.
“Yeah,” Ch’in Ching murmured an answer. He held the shaft and began stroking it in time with his thrusts.
Out of nowhere, he added, “I’ve missed you, Shen Liangsheng.”
Shen Liangsheng immediately slid his mischievous finger out and hugged the man with both arms, pressing him tightly into his arms. He lay silently breathing into the man’s ear for a few seconds before replying hoarsely,
“I’ve missed you, too.”
After the lovemaking, the two bathed together and spent a long time snuggled in bed talking.
Shen Liangsheng told Ch’in Ching about his childhood, about his mother. As he embraced the man and kissed his forehead in the dark, he recited for him Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems of love. His tone was flat and held little emotion, but the words themselves were rich and earnest and spoke of a lost legend from a faraway land, a story that had nothing to do with them.
It seemed their story had long begun, or perhaps it had only just begun.
But all stories about two people began with the first sonnet –
Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove –
“Guess now who holds thee!” – “Death,” I said. But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”
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The Ch'inhuai (Qinhuai) River is a branch of the Yangtze and runs through central Nanjing.
Main tourist section of Ch'inhuai River, night and day, present day Nanjing
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On the malice in Shen Liangsheng's life:
In Chinese Buddhism, like many other forms of Buddhism, it is believed that your existence spans an infinite amount of lifetimes, and the karma from all your lifetimes are seen as a collective. The "malice" or in more literal translation, the "malignant spirits" are a form of payback for the sins of bloodshed Shen had committed in his previous lifetime(s). Shen is born into his life in this story with these evil spirits attached to his existence, and these spirits will bring life-threatening disasters upon him in this life and the next to return the amount of blood he had shed in his previous life(ves)
For more information:
When Will You Return? (performance by Teresa Teng)
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ayszhang: SURPRISE :D bet you didn't see that coming!
Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.