45: beneath, a lucid moon
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Yang Rong hands him a pig bone. Or, it should be a pig bone, but the thing itself is abnormally large. It is unclear which cut of the animal it is – hindleg, likely, but Noah is certain that regular pigs do not have spiked skin. It looks edible and while it is bigger than the colonel’s whole forearm, the meat is roasted rather nicely. Golden brown, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, the overflowing whiteish fat oozing down the skin.

It drips onto the floor and the scent of it is akin to hog manure. If the foulness of it isn’t enough to put him off, it’d be the unplucked fur on its skin, right on the strange little trypophobic spikes. Sure, the spikes look soft and can potentially be peeled off – but the point is that Yang Rong is insistent on feeding him some extraterrestrial creature, radioactivity level unknown.

Noah, who hasn’t eaten in a forgotten number of days, isn’t appetized in the slightest.


He gives credit to the man for going night hunting alone with a knife and two out-of-ammo guns. The colonel really does imitate the life of a hunter and gatherer very smoothly. Two hours ago, Colonel Yang, decked in nothing but a tee shirt and pants, went into the nearby fields to slay rabbits only to come back, half an hour ago, hauling a deceased pig on his back.

The sight was impressive – the creature was thrice his size and Yang Rong had managed to skewer it perfectly in front of an audience of one. Noah sat listlessly on the side, half-conked from suppressants and unsure if it was a nightmare hallucination. It wasn’t, unfortunately, when breadwinner Colonel Yang started roasting meat in front of the campfire.

He’s oddly proud of it even now, as he holds the bone closer to Noah’s face.

“Of course you would be a picky eater even at a time like this,” Yang Rong says with an exasperating smirk. “Should I peel off the skin for you, princess?”

Noah, bundled in two jackets and with a ragged washcloth over his head, stares as the colonel begins to shred off layers of skin and fat. Colonel Yang has always had commendable skills with a knife and it’s almost mesmerizing watching him slice through meat. The black dagger had been sanitized beforehand, but he can still imagine the bits of viscera that stained the aluminum blade.

It’s also the exact dagger Noah had almost gorged into the man’s throat. A little deeper and it would’ve punctured through the larynx. A little deeper and, if Colonel Yang hadn’t stopped him, he would regain his sanity to see the man’s lifeless body under him. The thought is conflicting. Noah is feral in heat – he doesn’t get them often at all, but the ones that come are numbingly painful.

The silver blade is impeccably sharp. Colonel Yang works with the meticulousness of a carver, slicing through tendons and joints with finesse. His fingers move so quickly Noah can hardly keep up. It’s fascinating the way he handles the weapon, calloused fingers on jaded shagreen – perhaps it’s Noah’s lethargy that attributes fascination instead of fear.

The color of the blade is the same color as the man’s dog tag. The piece of metal dangles on top of his black shirt, and at this distance, Noah can clearly read the engravings – just his name. Very simple unlike Hannes’ tag that included everything from blood type to residency. At a closer look, he notices that the font is also different. An old issue, perhaps. It does look old, if not from the small scratches on the sides then from the dirtied beaded chain.

Small metallic beads hang from the colonel’s neck, hugely contrasting with the pinkish marks on his skin – strangulation marks caused by him half a day ago, faded but still—

“—What are you looking at?”

A voice interrupts his internal monologue. Noah lifts his head to see Yang Rong peering at him questioningly. The latter has his arm extended, the same piece of pork bone (now sliced and well-cleaned) pushed closer to his face in offer.

Yang Rong continues with a quirk of his eyebrow, “You may take the food from me first, and then continue to stare at my handsome body, if you’re so inclined.”

Noah, as per usual, ignores every ounce of the man’s egocentrism. He’s lost in some trance, studying the strangulation lines on his neck, the discolored scratches on his collar, the more recent wounds that dip below to chest, marring that unfairly sculpted body. Yang Rong, strange in the head, is abnormally hellbent on marketing his physique to the fullest, pulling the collar of his shirt as if to beckon Noah to take a closer look.

When the both of them are alone, Noah finds that the man is exceptionally talkative and for little reason.

“Are you finally feeling guilty now?” Yang Rong asks as he cranes his neck for Noah to see. The lines fit the shape of his fingers, slender red wrapping toward the nape. “I didn’t peg for you to be so aggressive, but—"

“I really did want to kill you, Colonel Yang,” Noah says, finally. “Why are you staying with me?”

At that, the expression on Yang Rong’s face turns indecipherable. It still carries some mirth – the colonel’s nature is embedded frivolity after all – but his lips have thinned into a straighter line. He ponders over the question as he shreds the pork meat into smaller pieces, plating it on a half-broken piece of ceramic. The cottage may not be in prime shape, but there are some more useful objects they’d dug up among piles of trash.

The pork slices are not arranged very gourmet-like, though it’s certainly a surprise that the proud, ultra-masculine alpha man had even bothered with plating. The domestic quality of all this is strange.

“Uncertain,” Yang Rong replies after a while, seemingly pleased with his skills. “Would you believe me if I said I’m being impulsive?”

“Impulsivity is hardly a trait I attribute to military colonels. You would not abandon your unit soldiers without pragmatic cause, so…” Noah looks at him with skepticism. “I am trying to figure your ulterior motives.”

“Those fools are more resilient than roaches. They’d be fine without their daddy for a few weeks.” Then Colonel Yang’s lips curve into a small smirk. “As for an ulterior motive… if I had one, it would be to spend some quality time with you?”

Definitely a tease to change the topic. Noah sighs softly. “About Ming Tang…”

“The little boy is fine,” the man says, the smirk not fading. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t ask. Let me tell you of my heroic deeds – your Rong-ge made some sacrifices and gave him a life vest. He’ll be fine, probably, assuming he can swim some tens of meters.”

“You don’t seem to know much about the human physique,” Noah says with a frown. “Tens of meters is difficult for a young teenager.”

“When your Rong-ge was a teenager,” Yang Rong brags without an ounce of shamelessness, “he was able to dive down a cliff, swim a hundred meters, and still have reserve strength to catch three of you.”

“…” Noah would like to call out Yang Rong’s absurd anecdotes, but there’s a small inkling inside of him that suggests the man may not be lying. It’s hard to tell from expression alone – he still bears the same shit-eating grin, his unfortunately attractive features wasted on his dimwit.

Instead, Noah says, “An alpha’s constitution may be slightly sturdier, but it hardly means invincibility. I’d like to see you freefall down a cliff and survive to tell the tale.”

“I’ve really done it,” Yang Rong says. His voice is actually really convincing, the tenor of it steady and unwavering. “I’ve fallen down five hundred meters and gotten away with a scratch on my calves and other minor external injuries.”

“…There must’ve been some internal sacrifices,” Noah replies after a bit of thinking. “For example, your intelligence level. Perhaps it is evolutionary to forgo the more lateral, unused parts of your body to heighten your alpha brawns.”

A moment of silence as Yang Rong attempts to process the cleverly disguised insult. It is rather amusing to see the man stare at him with such a lost expression, his green eyes blinking slowly in contemplation. He’s a lot less obnoxious when donned in casual clothing, when instead of his tough combat uniform is a common black tee that matches the color of his hair.

“…I must admit that your Rong-ge is unknowledgeable when it comes to some trivial customs,” the man begins with a low cough. “But is it not normal for everyone to be like this?”

“For everyone to drop down and survive five hundred meters?” Noah shoots him an unamused look. “I fell from ten and suffered a concussion.”

“Hm… that’s right,” he blinks again. “Why is that?”

Noah is rather cognizant of mockery, but from Colonel Yang’s all-serious narrowed eyes and pursed lips, he comes to a conclusion that the man is a no more than a simpleton. He still needs to confirm, however. “You… are asking earnestly?”

Colonel Yang looks at him strangely. “Of course?”

Again, Noah is increasingly convinced that the man is a socially inept caveman. “…My omega physiology is unable to compare to an alpha’s. Have you no education in this?”

“I am well-educated, but mostly in matters regarding sex and reproduction,” the man says without a stutter. “The other intricacies are trivial to me.”

“Forget it,” he sighs. “It is useless to speak to someone like you.”

“…Someone like me?” Yang Rong frowns. He taps his fingers lightly on the ceramic plate. A habit he has when he’s thinking hard. “Old man Hannes had also commented on my utilitarian way of thinking. Something about applying Darwinian theory onto real relationships and assigning, what was it, systemic categories to people? Is that so strange?”

“Strange?” Noah almost chuckles. “Perhaps not, Colonel Yang. It is only a concept I despise.”

“It makes sense for omega, beta, and alpha genders to have respective roles. Breeding and incubation are necessary for prolonged human survival, and omegas are the most fertile to carry the task. It is only natural that the fertile gender should be protected in the inner city. Though…”

The colonel’s frown deepens and then suddenly, his gaze flicks upward, his forest green eyes trailing from the jut of Noah’s collarbones up to the throat, lips, nose… He studies every detail of Noah’s skin so intently he may be able to pick out every curve and contour. There’s discomfort being subjected to his gaze, oddly omniscient, and Noah is immediately uneased.

Yang Rong continues, “When I look at you, there may be some…”

He trails off, but he doesn’t stop staring – ogling – and Noah feels pressed to retort. He locks eye contact and says, with a hint of danger in his tone, “Some what?”

On the colonel’s face is a flash of uncertainty that is instantly replaced by a less meandering expression, his lips curling slightly in mirth. Noah already recognizes the tease before the man even opens his mouth.

“Some conflicting emotions,” Yang Rong finishes easily. “It may be your unruly personality that isn’t befitting of your secondary gender stereotype. Noah, if you dislike the omega label, I’d add a new one for you… Do you want to hear it?”

“…?” Noah gives him a confused look.

Yang Rong scoots himself closer, purposefully brushing against Noah’s leg. He has immediately forgotten to heed the concept of personal space again, but at least Noah allows it begrudgingly this time. The colonel’s grin grows wider and he leans forward, lips teasing by the lobe of Noah’s ear.

“—Incredibly fierce,” Yang Rong whispers. “A tiger.”

“…” Noah’s expression instantly morphs into deadpan. “Your jokes get duller by the second. I am also not a—"

“Not a cat, not a vampire and not a tiger either,” the man muses. “Then what are you?”

“…” He shifts away. “None of your concern.”

There’s a manic gleam in Yang Rong’s eyes that indicates he really wants to tease the younger man even further, but perhaps it’s Noah’s miserable appearance that makes him back away. Noah looks dangerously close to fainting and even his words had begun to slur. In a matter of weeks, his body had thinned considerably and in the past few days, his muscles have deteriorated to a pathetic state – in comparison to the colonel’s, at least.

They lack medical supplies to patch his wounds properly and if not for the neat stitches on his abdomen, Noah would’ve died from blood loss. His complexion is no different than that of a ghost – ashen white and anemic. It is only his fever that gives a sickly blush by his puffed undereye. He shivers through a shirt and two jackets even when directly in front of a campfire.

Yang Rong picks up a piece of pork and hands it to him with a sigh. “With the amount of drugs you’ve taken in the last twelve hours, I’m afraid I’d wake up to your lifeless body. Why in the world are you taking so much? Here, eat this.”

“They’re ineffective on me,” he replies, closing his eyes. “I took my suppressants earlier on the ship.”

“What is effective on you?” Yang Rong’s tone doesn’t carry much bite, though the disappointment is unrivaled. He pushes the food closer to Noah’s face and says with hard-edged command, “Eat.”

Noah groggily cranks open one eye. The colonel holds the mystery meat inches from his lips, and while it certainly looks more appetizing than before, Noah cannot help thinking about how grotesque the animal must’ve looked prior to being butchered. It may have been a seven-eyed boar or a ten-legged pig for all he knows.

He scrunches his brows in complication and disgust. Colonel Yang watches his internal struggle with a disappointed, irked frown. “Duroc pig. The level of radiation is low, but I don’t think it’d matter too much regardless, considering your unordinary genetic makeup. Noah, you really are the pickiest eater I know. Are you really going to be like this when your Rong-ge painstakingly went out to fetch food for you? The taste is delicious, alright?! Smoked golden, incredibly juicy, made even more tender with my golden hands and my amaz—"

Noah resolutely leans forward and takes a bite. The front of his teeth scrapes the colonel’s thumb, and for whichever strange reason Noah can’t conjure in his head, Yang Rong freezes up. Ignoring the odd reaction, Noah goes on to eat the whole thing off his hand. Some soft chewing and a few gulps later, Noah gives the verdict.

“Not good.”

“…” Yang Rong is thrown into a daze. He could simply be having a moment, or he could be experiencing spiritual realignment, judging from the strange contortion of his features. He recovers shortly after and then picks up another piece of pork, holding it in the same position in front of Noah. “…Do you want more?”

They settle in some awkwardness when Noah proceeds to eat off his hand for the next five minutes – or, rather, Yang Rong is settled in some awkwardness while Noah himself doesn’t give the slightest care that he’s blatantly too lazy to hold his own food. Neither of them says a single word. Yang Rong is still experiencing a convulsion.

Noah finally finishes and licks the remaining off his lips. He looks up. “Why are you staring at me?”

Yang Rong blinks himself back to alacrity but doesn’t respond. Noah doesn’t care enough to inquire further, so he leans against the cottage wall and prepares to sleep. The atmosphere is strangely domestic – light crackling flames, soft breathing, shuffling. In the front, their clothes are being hung to dry on a rack, and to the left sits a small bucket of water they’d fetched during the earlier downpour.

Two… acquaintances with many complications sit in the middle of the dusty cottage. White noise only broken by a low murmur.


Yang Rong speaks his name just as he’s about to drift. Noah hums lowly in acknowledgement. It’s a while longer before the man speaks again. His voice is traveled along the crackling flames, discordant wind howls. Smooth and velvety.

“Rong-ge doesn’t know much about omegas outside of reproductivity.” Uncharacteristically pensive as he continues. “Things like your constitution, your physical ability, your preferences. I am not opposed to learning so… tell me about yourself as well?”

Noah opens his eyes. It may be the warm atmosphere that makes the colonel seem more agreeable than usual. His figure is dyed in soft sepia, his raven-black hair catching onto shades of red and orange. His all noir is no longer so intimidating.

“…Mn.” Noah wraps the jackets closer to his frame. “When I am not tired.”