"I saved some money."
Ai Hua didn’t even bother to open his eyes. "You should buy a present and give it to the governor then."
Shen Qiu made the young man in his arms turn around and kissed his temple. "What are you even saying? It’s for you. I’ll use it to buy your freedom back."
Ai Hua couldn’t help but give a smile that was two parts sincere and eight parts full of ridicule. How often had he heard this sentence already? I’ll set you free, I’ll make sure you can leave this place, you won’t have to do this anymore … None of them had fulfilled these promises that had been given in the heat of the moment.
This Shen Qiu wouldn’t be any different. He would come as long as he hadn’t grown tired of him and then he would go and never look back as soon as he did. That was the way of this place. There was no way any of these men would ever return and make those high-sounding promises come true.
Shen Qiu couldn’t help but feel miffed when he didn’t get the expected reaction from Ai Hua. It couldn’t be that he didn’t want to be set free, could it? He brushed the other man’s hair back and called out again. "Ai Hua. Why are you being like this? I’m serious. It’s not a lot but it should be enough to set you free. Don’t you want to leave this place?"
Ai Hua finally cracked his eyes open. Yes, once upon a time, he had also entertained this kind of thought. But after years upon years in a flower house, there really was no hope left. He had seen too much, experienced too much. The only thing he couldn’t imagine here was true love. It just didn’t happen. "Young Master Shen, even if you are serious, you shouldn’t be. What’s the use in setting me free? I am a prostitute. Even if I gain back my freedom, it’s not like I could return to my family. My brother would just sell me anew."
"Aiya!" Shen Qiu pulled the other man closer, his gaze brushing his already familiar appearance with fondness. "Who said anything about returning home? I’ll take you with me! You can become my concubine."
Ai Hua gave a sigh. This was also something he had heard often enough. Although he did have to say that this Young Master Shen was a little different from those other men.
Normally, he would be told this kind of thing when just getting to know the other person, when the sense of novelty had worn off, those promises would be forgotten and maybe they wouldn’t even come to see him anymore.
This Shen Qiu, on the other hand, hadn’t made any grand gestures of affection or given any promises when he came here for the first few times. He had only looked at him, done what he paid for, and finally left. It had only been the past few times when he came here that he started to say this kind of thing. Talking about true love, about not wanting to part anymore, about wanting to stay even a moment longer … And now they had actually gotten to this point.
Ai Hua really wanted to shake his head but even if he didn’t believe any of what he said, this man was still his customer. How would he dare to retort something like this? No, he had to keep him happy. After all, his livelihood depended on these men coming back to visit. And in comparison to some other customers, this Shen Qiu wasn’t too bad even if he was starting to talk nonsense as well.
Ah, maybe this was also how younger men were. They hadn’t seen enough of this world so when somebody caught their eye for a while, they really believed it was something like true love.
He reached up and encircled Shen Qiu’s neck, craning his own to give him a kiss on the lips. "I would love to but are you sure your family would accept it? Even if it’s just being a concubine, it would also be seen by people. Aren’t you afraid to be judged?"
Shen Qiu’s expression got better when Ai Hua explained things this way. "What’s there to be afraid of? It’s not like I’ll leave my family without an heir. I can still take a wife and have a son. Having you as my concubine wouldn’t change anything about that. And it’s not like I’m the only person with a male concubine. Why should that be a problem?"
"Normally, those male concubines aren’t prostitutes though. Don’t tell me your family really wouldn’t have anything to say to that?"
Shen Qiu just smiled. Seeing how Ai Hua thought on his behalf and didn’t want to inconvenience him, he felt even more sure of his plan. "They might talk in the beginning but that will die down soon. I’ll keep you away from any unsavory words and I’ll defend you if somebody still dares to say something later on. Anyway, you will be my concubine. What does it have to do with anybody else? They should care about their own families."
Anyway, while he hadn’t mentioned it, Ai Hua’s gender also played a role in how calm he kept. With a woman, this naturally would have been a problem but what was the big thing about a man having had a few partners before him? At the end of the day, he couldn’t get pregnant so there was no need to worry about whether a child would be his or that of some other man.
As for anything else … If Ai Hua agreed to let him buy his freedom back, then that meant that he loved him, right? In that case, what should he worry about? If other’s weren’t self-assured enough to believe that their partner loved them, then that wasn’t his problem.
Maybe it was that Shen Qiu’s confidence oozed out from the way he looked at the man in his arms but Ai Hua just nodded and burrowed back into his arms, snuggling up against his chest.
"Alright, if Young Master Shen has already thought it through, then I will be waiting." He fell silent afterward, not bothering to entertain these flights of fancy any longer. Anyway, it was good as long as this man came here. After so many years in the flower house, he could hardly say that he wasn’t able to stomach those old and ugly men anymore but it was still preferable to have a customer that was young and handsome like this Young Master Shen.
Furthermore, even if he didn’t return to make him his concubine, he was still rather generous when he visited, leaving him some money or valuables that he could use to make his life in the flower house a little more comfortable. Contrary to those old men that often brought jewelry to the point where he could wear a different set each day of the year, he even brought him some practical things.
Cracking his eyes open, Ai Hua glanced at the door to the small room next door where he spent his time when there weren’t any customers. Most of the things in there had been bought with the money he earned himself but quite a few were also presents from Shen Qiu. This man … after coming here regularly, he knew him surprisingly well. Or maybe it was just that their tastes aligned well.
With Ai Hua lost in thought, Shen Qiu indulged in the sight of this beauty. At the very beginning, this had been what lured him in. He wasn’t the typical kind of person this brothel offered. Not to say that he wasn’t a beauty but for one, he was quite a bit older than the boys he usually saw around here, maybe even just as old as him, and second, he was less of a stunning beauty that could bring about the downfall of a nation but more of a homely one. He had the kind of face that he’d like to see after coming home in the evening. His tranquil expression gave him a feeling of peace and quiet.
He just … liked to look at him. If he could, he wanted to do so every day from now on. Realizing this feeling was what had made him think about wanting to set Ai Hua free in the first place. And now that he had spent some time thinking about it, he was completely sure that this was what he wanted to do. He wouldn’t change his mind no matter what others said. And as for Ai Hua …
He hadn’t been as excited as he had hoped but it was also understandable that he would have some reservations. After all, since the day he came here for the first time and followed him to this room, he had always experienced him to be a rather conscientious and responsible person. He was great at listening and even able to offer him some advice.
This type of person … He naturally would have some worries in his heart when hearing of his plan for the first time. It was on him to prove to him that he had spent enough time and effort to think things through and plan ahead for them. Only then would Ai Hua be able to accept it.
And he was definitely willing to do so. He didn’t want to let him go. He could part with the money, he could accept if people ridiculed him behind his back, and he could even stand behind his decision if his family did not agree. He just couldn’t let him go. So he would slowly work toward his goal and show Ai Hua that those worries he had were unfounded and that he was really able to make this dream come true. He would show him that he was a man he could count on for the rest of his life, the perfect partner for him.
Thinking of that, Shen Qiu leaned down and left a kiss on Ai Hua’s temple. For the time being, he was content with just holding this beautiful person in his arms and quietly spend some time with him. But he also knew that he couldn’t wait too long. Otherwise, who knew if somebody else would come up with the same idea as him? A prostitute was but a slave to the flower house. As long as the right price was paid, they would be given to anybody, no matter their own wishes. He couldn’t let that happen.
He tightened his grasp on Ai Hua and then gently grabbed his chin, tilting his head up for a kiss. "I’m afraid I’ll have to go for now. Wait a few days. I’ll certainly come and take you home with me." Yes, a few days should be enough to prepare everything at home. They could even have a small wedding celebration even if it wouldn’t be an elaborate one.
Ai Hua answered him with a smile and got up to help him back into his clothes, his attitude still as lukewarm as before. "I’ll be here. Whenever Young Master Shen wants to see me again, you can come by."
Ai Hua went to open the door and watched the young master in the silken robe walk down the corridor. Maybe this would be the last time he saw this man’s back.
Yes, unfortunately, this was the truth of the flower house: Men came with high anticipation and left in a great mood while those flowers back in the house would lose all anticipation they had ever held. Those high-sounding promises only served to dash their hopes sooner when they finally came to realize that they were nothing but that: promises of a future. But the future was always at least a day away.
Nothing could be done about that.