39: rain, then comes storm
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They simultaneously rush off.

Noah cannot be considered a slow runner, but when he’s disoriented, feverish and sapped of most of his strength, he doubts he can outrun a muskox speeding forty miles an hour. The colonel, too, is ragged and nearing his limit. The two use every obstacle to their advantage – the towering pine trees, browned-out bushes, chopped stumps…

“We can’t outrun it,” Noah pants out, clutching at the side of his stomach – there’s a strange, persistent pain that’s getting more agonizing by the second. “I’m not going to last thirty seconds.”

He throws himself behind a tree and Colonel Yang follows promptly. The latter clicks his tongue in disappointment. “You are really delicate.”

“Then you go and fight it alone,” he replies sharply. “Surely an alpha of your caliber is capable enough?”

“…I was wrong,” the man says placatingly. “Don’t be like that, Noah… Your Rong-ge is out of explosives. We will fight it together, alright?”

Noah only shoots him a cold look in response – a brief, half a millisecond look that is expressively judgmental and wholly unamused. He regains his normal countenance short enough, but it lingers of disappointment. He likes to believe it gets his point across.

Neither of them has time to argue anyway, considering the ox is plowing down trees like an electric mower. Two thin pine trunks collapse a few steps away from where they are, causing the ground to tremor in collateral. A few insects scurry off into different directions – thankfully, not interested in eating them just yet.

“What’s the plan?” Noah leaps over a fallen trunk just before his ankles get crushed under. “Colonel Yang, I will listen to your orders just this once.”

Because he likes to think that the high-strung, alpha-dominant colonel has extensively more battle experience and awareness that he does. Unfortunately, although Yang Rong may be a battle-hardened Neanderthal, he is comparatively more of a dolt.

“Oh?” Yang Rong gives him a mischievous smirk. “So willing to be my subordinate now? The First Unit does have rather strict requirements, but I may grant you an exception – the condition is that you undergo more exhaustive training sessions with—”

“Stop being an idiot,” Noah cuts him off coldheartedly. “Perhaps you’d be more agreeable if you’d just—!”

At that moment, the muskox rams straight into him, barreling at his chest and skidding him meters across the mud. Noah hastily grabs its left horn and clutches onto it as hard as he can to lessen the impact. The downturned horn takes the shape of a boomerang – the base bowed low but the tips pointed up, looking even sharper than Yang Rong’s dagger.

“Jump!” the man directs as he rushes to aid. “You won’t be able to match its strength!”

He knows that, but it’s too late to jump when the animal slams him against a tree, pinning him by the junction in between its horns. Then the ox, preternaturally intelligent, tilts its horns at an angle to stab the side of Noah’s abdomen. It digs deeper and deeper, red blood gushing out in cascade, soaking his clothes immediately.

If not for his two jackets, Noah’s body would be drilled through.

Yang Rong impales the ox’s skull but the dagger isn’t enough for it to loosen its latches on Noah.

“Lean to the right—your right—as far away as possible,” the colonel tells him quickly while continuing to carve through its tough skin. “Grab it with both hands and stop it from advancing.”

Noah isn’t going to wait for Yang Rong to skewer it – they’d take minutes and Noah thinks he has only seconds from being bayoneted. He grits his teeth and wrenches the horn with all his strength.

“Colonel—Yang,” he breathes out shakily, each of his words stuttered, “I will… rip it off, so… hurry and…!”

With gritted teeth, he channels all of his strength and wrestles for dominance. The ox, more than one thousand pounds, is nearly impossible to pry off and as it wiggles around, its horns etch dangerously into Noah’s kidney. One moment of lax and he has no doubt he’ll lose the organ altogether.

Sweat beads accumulate on his temple, his arms shake in overexertion, and his palm is soaked in red – unsure if the blood comes from his stomach or the palm itself. The liquid drips down as heavily as the rainfall. He has no time to look, but he’s certain the soil underneath him is a gory mess.

Yang Rong lands a lethal strike to the ox’s ear – or at least Noah guesses, because he can hardly see from the pain clouding his sight. As the creature backs its head away, Noah yanks the left horn off its head, tearing it brutally from the joint. A putrid scent of rotten fat fills the air as Noah staggers backward.

The muskox, enraged, retaliates even in its last moments, bulldozing into him with only one horn left. The horn misses, but Noah is hit directly by its ironlike head. He’s slammed against the tree again, but this time, he blacks out completely.


Some sensations are still registered before he faints – the overwhelming pain, the nausea, the coldness that’s turned numb, the colonel’s panicked voice.


The carcass lies limp on the ground. Brown water streams down from soil onto his military boots. The rain is mixed with sanguine scarlet, fertilizer for wilted grass and wildflowers. Even in such a hooded forest, plant life is near nonexistent.

The mud continues to overflow but the water comes more blood-red, dispersing onto the ground without stop. They remind of deep carnations, soaked blossoms that sprout without an end. The colonel’s footprints are steeped with petals – every step he takes, they bloom more and more.

Behind him – the ox’s lifeless body, clumps of fur, cut out hooves. In front of him – Noah lolled to the side, head drooped low. His hair covers most of his features, stained silver locks clinging onto his drenched forehead. Mouth slightly parted. Unconscious.

Yang Rong is reminded of the time he’d first seen him in that snowy mountain, when the younger man had blended in so much with white snow and drifting flakes. He was captivating – and he still is, though the colonel much prefers the crisp winter backdrop over such a grimy place. It doesn’t suit him at all.

He crouches in front of him and works fast – ripping the hem of his uniform, wrapping the fabric around Noah’s stomach, clotting the bleeding as much as he can. He needs to dress it well later, but out here in the cold, damp forest, he’d wager Noah would freeze to death before blood loss.

Noah is frighteningly cold. He can tell from his fever-flushed cheeks, his cracking lips, his tremoring body even when unconscious. Yang Rong has no business to think, in such a situation, about how beautiful he looks – sickly and all – but he cannot help being allured.

He picks Noah up carefully in his arms.

Yang Rong is breathing heavily in the aftermath of battle. He doesn’t stop running. He speeds up his pace and hightails out of the forest, hoping to find any dwelling they can settle in. The laceration on his forearm bleeds out periodically, the strange carapace morphing back and forth between soft tissue and iron fibril. He tries to harden it but to no avail. As always – flimsy and unreliable.

The rain carries an earthy fragrance of petrichor and the wind… carries the fragrance of something else more pleasant and distinctive. Sweet. Yang Rong furrows his brows.

He reaches an abandoned cottage, some makeshift place made of decades-old bricks and wood. The cottage is the only one not toppled down yet – though it seems like it’s about to, from how a particularly strong gust of wind almost blows the rooftop away. The place doesn’t even have a door.

When he enters, he realizes just how poor of a condition the shack is in. Aside from the fact that the space is barely enough to fit two grown men, it also has too much ventilation – such as, the random holes in the walls, the wooden planks that creak along with the gale, the cracked floors that haven’t been swept in a millennium. At least, miraculously, the rooftop isn’t leaking.

No time to dwindle on the hygiene of it either – Colonel Yang wouldn’t care either way, but he’s carrying Noah on toll and the latter is the most finicky person he’s ever met. He places Noah gently on the floor, positioning his back against the wall.

“You’d better not complain, Noah,” he mutters more to himself than anything. “Your Rong-ge doesn’t like this shabby place much either, alright?”

He puts his backpack on the floor and rummages through all contents.

“Why have you thrown so much junk into my bag?” he mutters again as he filters out bottles upon bottles of unlabeled medicine. Colorless substances, white pills and some syrupy things. “Perhaps you’re really a drug dealer…”

He finally finds the medical kit. It’s waterproof, thankfully.

He strips Noah of his jackets and soaked shirt, tossing them off to the corner. It isn’t the first time he’d seen the younger man shirtless, but again, he’s caught off-guard by how many scars he has on his body.

Long faded scars. Old stitches that mar otherwise porcelain skin, bruised spots that tarnish his body in multiple shades, speckles that look like beauty marks. Perhaps it’s pity that Yang Rong feels, or perhaps it’s sympathy, some sort of emotion that drives him to stroke the tender of his skin, softly smearing the coagulated blood on his stomach.

“Why are you so hurt like this?” he whispers, his voice lowered in lull.

Somehow, though, Yang Rong thinks he doesn’t look any less beautiful – he carries those imperfections so well, he wears them like a second skin. Every cut on every concave, every dip of lean muscle – Yang Rong should be treating his gaping wound but he is inexplicably distracted.

He holds the gauze with one hand and an alcohol pad with the other, but he remains rooted in position. Now that Yang Rong is calming from adrenaline, his senses are more poignant. Noah, less than an inch way, carries a… strange scent. He thinks it’s not so much strange as it is stimulating.

A glaze of honey and ice, a note of vanilla. The metallic scent of blood is washed by an overwhelming sweetness that only gets stronger. It sends tingles throughout his entire body, coursing heat southward, and when the lingering sweetness peaks to an addicting floral—

Yang Rong figures it out immediately.

The mix is an aphrodisiac to him, consuming his mind so much he can’t think. His body, still frozen stiff, is slammed with waves of frenzy, his inner alpha aching to be satiated and immediately, he’s filled with the need to touch, the need to ravage and—

“—Fuck.” He slaps a palm over his nose in an attempt to dull the scent. He breathes heavily into his sleeve and groans. “This is… not the best situation to find out.”

Noah is still unconscious, bleeding right in front of him, and even Yang Rong thinks it’s despicable to be thinking of other activities – his mind is in haywire and his body mirrors it too, an unsated craving crawling down to his groin. In such a cramped space, all he can focus on is Noah – his stimulative scent, his half-naked, sweat-sheened body, his face that’s turned rosy.

“You… are going to be the death of me,” Yang Rong groans out in fluster. It’s with miraculous self-control that he scrunches his eyes, counts to ten, and wills away the searing heat. It only works when he reminds himself that Noah is quite literally dying in front of him.

With a shuddering sigh, he leans forward to wipe the blood off the younger man’s body. He tries to work as meticulously as he can, but the pheromones are so strong – even stronger when he leans in close – and Yang Rong thinks he may be at breakpoint. Even as he holds his breath, he can still sense Noah’s heat, his presence, the pheromones that encircle the air around them.

Noah is burning up and so is he. He’s breathing hotly down the younger man’s neck, resisting the temptation to bite, to mark the delicate nape of his neck, to pin him under and devour every last bit of him. It would be so easy to overpower Noah, to bend him and break him and… Yang Rong curses. Beads of sweat run down his forehead.

He smacks himself hard on the cheek. “Fuck.”

He lets out another low groan, more guttural this time, and tears his sight away from Noah’s pliant neck.

“I will allow you to hit your Rong-ge three times,” he announces as he gets to work dressing up the wound. The disinfectant almost spills during the process. He continues to chatter on incessantly to distract himself. “I admit to my faults, my wrongdoings, and my dirty thoughts. You can scratch me as hard as you want when you wake up… Though little kitten, I don’t believe your claws will do much, so I will allow another punch to—"

Just then, a punch aims for his face.

It comes unexpectedly in the blink of an eye, but Yang Rong still manages to catch the fist in surprise. The force is weak, barely enough to injure even if it were to land.


He doesn’t finish before the younger man grabs his collar and slams him down onto the floor. The wooden boards creak underneath them, shaking from their weight. A foreboding rattle of wind, then barely a millisecond of silence before Noah swipes the dagger off his belt – Yang Rong allows it – and points it right at his throat.

Noah is disoriented, shaken and weak – that much, Yang Rong can tell – but his eyes are feral. Glowing sapphire blue, topaz yellow, exceptionally beautiful yet haunting. Yang Rong is captured by their kaleidoscope, their pattern, the way they reflect a million hues of rainy dawn. The vertical slits of his pupils, too, are so breathtaking no human can compare.

It must be strange to look at Noah like this, when he himself is being held at knifepoint and straddled on the floor. He doesn’t struggle in the slightest.

A dribble of blood from his throat down to his collar.

The young man leans forward.

“Do not touch me,” he whispers.

Low, dangerous, but melodious to Yang Rong’s ears.

“I will kill you, Colonel Yang.”