The night carnival of the fairies in Dragon City will be held on December 28 of the lunar calendar, which is the second last day for this year.
In the morning, Zhao receives the invitation to the fairy market. A sparrow sent it to his window side.
His office has been brightly cleaned by housekeeping, windows are crystal clear and the tables are glistening. On one side is a giant ceiling-to-floor window which faces the sun. Opening the curtains, the winter sunshine glows inside in a broad beam. With ample air conditioning, one can comfortably stay in-doors with just a shirt on. Two pots of alocasia plants dripple with morning dew in lush viridescence. There is also an aquarium by the door, with a silver arowana fish swimming leisurely.
The hi-fi set is playing a soothing guqin piece. In the spacious office, the two men enjoy their own space… Shen comes in to water the plants, and then sits aside to read a book, like a temporary assistant. Zhao asks him to prepare a bowl of cinnabar powder, and he takes out a thick pile of yellow paper talismans that have yet to be used. With his eyes closed, he begins drawing on the talismans. At first he would mess up a lot, but gradually he gets used to it, and this becomes a way of mental relaxation rather than just to kill time. Exorcising talismans pile up in the corner on his desk.
From a great distance, one can feel the warm and overflowing energy oozing from the talismans. Usually he would find these things hard to stand, and yet when he is with Shen, he can’t help but be influenced by him, and his heart inevitably settles down.
Zhu knocks and comes in, and sees the two men who fit together like puzzle pieces spending time with each other so independently and blissfully. Her steps hesitate at the doorway apparently, and feels like going inside is redundant. It really feels meaningless.
She bites her lips, and coldly nods towards Shen. Then she says to Zhao, “I’m going out. The year-end bonus is here, I am going to the bank for Wang.”
Zhao the penniless is instantly revitalised as he hears this, and hastily nods, “Uh, uh, right, go.”
Zhu takes a form from a folder, “Also, this is our department’s budget for this year’s reunion dinner. Besides food, we need to buy offerings beforehand. I will read it to you, sign if there’s no problem. Then I will get a loan from a moneylender.”
Zhu reads out every entry, and Zhao sits and listens. The two quickly go through everything, and Zhao signs on the paper. After they’re finished, Zhu looks at Shen, and asks, stuttering, “So this year… this year are you still spending New Year with us?”
Zhao doesn’t look up, “Yea, why wouldn’t I?”
Joy emerges on Zhu’s face, but the next moment, she hears Zhao say, “Not only me, I’m bringing family as well, am I right wifey?”
Perhaps he has gotten used to the constant harassment and flirtation, or perhaps since Zhu is here, Shen does not overreact, and only softly grins, and almost playfully chides him, “Go away.”
Zhu face darkens instantly, and after a while, she says disheartenedly, “Oh, I will go if there is nothing then.”
“Hey, wait.” Zhao calls her back, and tidies up the talismans on the desk. Then he opens the drawer, and takes out a thick pile that he drew before, and hands them to Zhu, “There is a small shop in Antique Street, behind the big pagoda tree at the very end. There is no shop sign, and only an old man looking after the shop. Go inside and show these to the old man. Same price as always, he knows. But tell him, I drew these blind, so if there are defects, give him a discount.”
Zhu takes them, stuffs them into the pocket of her down jacket, and asks, surprised, “You’re selling paper talismans?”
Zhao smiles, “I have to raise the family you know, I’ve gotta bring home some bacon. Just bought a house, now I urgently need some cash for renovation.”
Zhu doesn’t wait for him to finish, and leaves without a word.
She was going to ask whether she should accompany him to the fairy market, but it seems that would be rather unnecessary now.
The door of the chief’s office is violently slammed shut. Shen raises his head from an antique book, “Does she have feelings for…”
“Uh.” Zhao takes a new yellow paper, and says while measuring with his fingers, “I didn’t notice before. But now that I know, I better make her give up as soon as possible.”
“Why are you sighing?” Zhao laughs without a sound, “Can office romance ever amount to anything? Besides, I’m human and she’s a fairy, we don’t belong together.”
Zhao says that unintentionally, but Shen has every intention to read into it. After a moment of silence, he says, “Then you and me… I’m a ghost and you’re human, do we belong together?”
“Eh?” Zhao dips into the cinnabar powder, and is stunned. He soon realises he said something wrong, and immediately corrects himself, “How are you the same? I like you so much.”
He says this so carelessly, curtailing the seriousness of it that it doesn’t even seem like deliberate sweet-talking, but merely… when the whole world is engulfed in blizzards of the winter, the casual chitchat as you raise a cup to sniff the aroma of tea in a cosy, toasty room.
Suddenly, someone grabs Zhao’s hand on the talisman paper. His pen derails and the magic on the talisman is lost; the paper goes to waste.
Before Zhao realizes, Shen leans very close with his hands holding the armrests of the chair; his two arms surrounding Zhao. He even holds his breath, and devotedly moves towards the other. With his eyes shut, eyelashes subtly quivering, he heedfully kisses the other’s nose. A while later, he gathers the courage to slowly move downwards, testing the waters, one inch at a time, and gradually landing on Zhao’s slightly arid lips.
So incredibly sensual, and so incredibly gentle. Even though he tenderly pries open Zhao’s lips and enters, it doesn’t seem like he wants to do anything.
It’s just that the sensation of love overwhelms him, and he desires for an intimate kiss.
To Shen, that feeling is a certain kind of deadly toxin. After effortful struggle, it is impossible to endure, and he inevitably sinks deeper and deeper downwards.
At this instant, someone comes in without knocking. After it sees something it’s not supposed to see, that thing moans, and silently goes back out.
Shen is startled by the sound of the door, and panickingly springs up. He coughs dryly, trying to conceal something.
Da Qing scratches at the door, and attempts to shrug off what just happened, but fails. It asks loudly with elongated words, “Chief? Chief comrade are you there? Are you busy?”
Zhao is pissed, “Just come in!”
Da Qing wiggles its butt inside, and glances at Shen. It finds this specimen very intriguing… it has never seen such a subtle and easily-embarassed human being with Zhao before. For a moment, Da Qing miraculously finds Shen’s expression rather like the prostitutes being arrested by the police on the news.
He is almost dying of embarassment; a rush of blush spreads from his face to his neck.
From this sight, he truly has the beauty of peach blossoms, and the aesthetics of a well-crafted portrait. No wonder the big gangster so persistently went after him for over half a year, and yet until now he has yet to have his meal. Da Qing silently scrutinises Shen with its cat eyes.
Then it wriggles its tail, and merrily thinks: no matter how good-looking, the big gangster still doesn’t get to see it.
The big gangster says impatiently, “Two minutes to say what you need to say, if you give me catshit I’m gonna skin you to make a fur neck collar!”
The black cat crouches on his desk, “I wrote to the flower fairies, you’ve got the invitation, right? You’ve quite a lot of acquaintances among the fairies, after dusk, someone will be waiting for you at the western entrance of Antique Street. Just go in directly, but don’t forget to bring gifts.”
At this point, it looks at Shen, “Professor Shen knows the rules, I assume?”
Shen nods, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him.”
Da Qing is relieved… it believes that if a human knows shame then he knows boundaries, and if he knows boundaries then he’s reliable. Professor Shen seems so much more credible.
Zhao is about to send the guest away, but his phone rings. He finds his phone without a care, mumbles “who is it”, and picks up. Da Qing crouches on the desk and peeks at the phone screen, it reads: “Empress”. It instantly feels refreshed, sits up straight, and waits for a hilarious show.
First, Zhao says frivolously, “Hi, Chief Zhao of the SI…”
Then his voice abruptly stops, and he turns into feeble cat, speaking in a gentle and obedient tone, and says, “Aye, aye, I didn’t see, it’s my fault, mum.”
A moment ago, Zhao was just sitting in his comfortable swivel chair like a boss; such majesty and arrogance. And yet as soon as he picks up the phone he begins curling up into a ball, wiggling its tail like a eunuch following behind an emperor. Da Qing silently rolls on the desk laughing.
“No, I wouldn’t dare to forget.” Zhao says, “I really have something to do tonight, really… ow, please don’t ask, it’s work… no, why would I fool around? Where would I go fooling around in this freezing weather?”
Shen stands aside, and hears him talking to the other side with an intimate and affectionate tone. His gaze darkens. This time, it cannot be clearer to Shen that Zhao is a living, breathing human of flesh and bones, and with parents, with countless ties in the living world. Zhao is, after all, different from himself.
Since Zhao finds this phone call rather detrimental to his image, he stands up, holding on to the chair, and slowly dawdles into a room.
Da Qing licks its paws, and stares at Shen. After a while, it asks, “Are you human?”
Shen is left in silence.
Da Qing hastily explains, “Oh, I’m not scolding you. I just meant its literal meaning. Literal meaning, you understand right? So… are you human, or, uh… something else, or whatever, you know?”
This question pierces into Shen’s painful spot. He stays silent for a while, then shakes his head.
But Da Qing seems quite relieved, and murmurs, “Not human, not human is good… uh, that kid looks like a jerk most of the time, but he’s actually quite nice. He really likes you, don’t hurt him.”
Shen replies with an incredibly soft and stately tone, spouting one word after another, “As long as he still wants me, I will never let him down, whether in life or in death.”
Da Qing stares into his eyes. It feels the indescribably deep affection and sincerity in his pitch-black gaze. It has been many, many years since it last saw such genuineness from someone; for a moment, it is mesmerised.
Then, Zhao hangs up and returns. Da Qing comes to, dashes towards his legs and goes in circles around, “What did the old lady say? I want to eat her fried yellow corvina!”
“Eat your ass. Go away, don’t stick to me.” Zhao nudges it away with his leg.
Da Qing persists, and claws on to his trousers tight. Following his movements, it flings to and fro in the air like a round ball of fur, and yells with much energetic noise, “I want to eat… FRIED, YELLOW, CORVINA!!!”
“I’ll bring you along, okay? Cat ancestor.” Zhao bends down and picks Da Qing up by the nape, hurling it aside. Then slaps it on the butt, “We’ll go at night on the first day of the New Year. To quote my mum, that cat has lived for so many years, it probably doesn’t have much time left. So she told me to treat you better.”
Zhao turns towards Shen, “I told her to make dinner for one more. You free? Got other plans? Wanna come home with me?”
Shen is stunned. He retrieves his voice after a long time, “I… I better not. It’s the New Year, an outsider like me probably…”
“Outsider?” Zhao raises his eyebrow, and carelessly says, “So what now, you’ve decided to dump me?”
Shen has nothing to say.
Da Qing silently shakes its head, and slips out through the door gap. Then it kicks the door shut agilely with its rear legs. It feels like someone inside must have had his sense of decency eaten by a dog.
Needless to mention how gangster Zhao can be. As night falls, and they head to the fairy market, somehow he got Shen to agree.
The two arrive in Antique Street. Zhao wears a pair of sunglasses, holding a walking stick that came out of nowhere. Shen helps him walk with one hand, and in the other he brought along a big lacquer box, which has four layers. The first layer contains lingzhi mushrooms and Haworthia cooperi plants picked from the mountains, the second layer contains antique golden and jade ritual instruments, the third layer contains precious pearls and dragon whiskers from the deep sea, and the fourth layer contains black gold and iron from Hell. With all the treasure inside, this box probably weighs a few hundred kilograms.
Antique Street in fact does not have a western entrance. Its western side is a dead end, and the handful of shops there have already closed early. There is only a big pagoda tree with a red paper lantern hanging from it. The mottled wall is lit with a glowing halo.
The two men walk below the lantern. With a flash of light before their eyes, a carriage appears in front of the two, but with no horse. A “person” comes out of the carriage, exceptionally tall and slender, wearing a strangely old- fashioned long gown. It has a fox face, like a furry mask when seen from a distance.
The fox hides its paws in the long sleeves, its narrow and cunning eyes glaring at the box in Shen’s hand, and bows, “Welcome my important guests, please come this way.”