49: yes, things are great
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“There is a problem.”

Déjà vu. Yang Rong walks into the cottage again, another three nights later, wearing (thankfully) a different shirt that isn’t stained with hemoglobin this time. He is also not holding an animal carcass in his hands. The expression on his face is, however, still comically glowering, his green eyes narrowed in irritation.

He strides over to Noah, crouches down to meet on eye level, and repeats himself pointedly, “Are you listening?”

Noah, midway to dozing off, slowly blinks himself to alacrity. With sluggish movements, he raises his hand, intending to rub at his eyes but stops out of sheer laziness. He wraps his – the colonel’s – black jacket closer to his body and gives an unenergetic hum in response. “Mm?”

Yang Rong is a single provocation away from snapping. His undereye is already twitching. He hovers his face closer, purposefully making his irritation known. Noah can very clearly see his angry expression despite his hazed vision. Come nighttime, the colonel oozes more dominance than he’s comfortable with – dim lit visage, contoured nose bridge, the sharpened features more aggressive than average.

It may be subconscious that Yang Rong’s pheromones are exuding out too, the musk getting stronger by distance. Colonel Yang reaches out to touch his shoulder, but right before contact, Noah instinctively draws backward, colliding his back against the dirty wall. Apprehension.

Suddenly he’s so aware of the alpha and his own body, frail and feverish, feels overpowered just by staying in the same vicinity. To the colonel’s puzzlement, Noah swallows a lump of saliva and says very simply, “Pheromones.”

He’s overly sensitive to sound, touch, smell and because he hadn’t eaten properly for days (weeks), his terrible digestion comes in to stab him at full force. Terribly languid and weak. His fever still hadn’t subsided. Colonel Yang, finally aware of the pressure, quells the pheromones before sighing softly. He murmurs a low apology – “sorry, I forget” – before easing Noah back into conversation. Oddly considerate of him.

“The problem?” Noah prompts a little later, when he finds the air less suffocating. “What is it?”

“I was afraid you wouldn’t ask.” Colonel Yang massages his temples. Very slowly, very deliberately. Then, as if finally making up his mind, he leans forward, narrows his eyes and says, “Excuse me, Noah, but…”

A second of repose is all there is before an endless spiel comes in the form of heavily-loaded sentences and colorful profanity.

“Exactly how long are you going to continue to be sick?! Colonel Yang just about spits in his face. “Do you have a fever or do you have a terminal illness for fuck’s sake?! It’s been a whole week, goddamn it—do you know how hard Rong-ge worked for you to eat a proper meal?!”

He starts counting with his fingers. “Pigs are too disgusting, so I had to go hunt for cows. Cows are too trypophobic for your pretty little eyes, so I had to hunt for deer. Deer antlers are too ugly, so I had to go hunt for chicken! What should I do next? Take a swim down the river and catch fish? Ducks?”

“I dislike du—”

“No ducks!” Yang Rong is on the verge of losing it. “Just watch me catch a dinosaur with my bare hands for you next, alright?!”

“…” Noah was unprepared to be scolded so harshly. It is true, however, that he has been taking full advantage of Yang Rong for the past week while recuperating. He feels slightly guilty for the heavy bags under the man’s eyes and those blood vessels that are threatening to pop out of his sockets. On closer inspection, the colonel’s complexion is deprived and ashen, not masked even by the flickering fireplace. Noah looks to him and says, with a little hesitation, “…Thank you.”

The words take long to register, and when they do, Colonel Yang misconstrues it heavily.

“…A dinosaur?” The man repeats slowly. He looks at Noah for any signs of jest – there are none – before asking for confirmation, “…Do you really want me to?”

Noah, confused and unsure of what to say, can only stare up at the other man. Noah’s eyes are opened a little wider than the usual indifference, the hue of them brighter yet glazed with lethargy, making him look especially docile and soft. Yang Rong, also oblivious, stares at him in discomposure. Perhaps it may be the lighting, but there’s a tinge of pink on the tips of the colonel’s ears.

“…Little kitten, can you not look at me like that?” The color fades almost immediately as Yang Rong pinches his own nose bridge in frustration – or is it fluster – and then mutters, “…Fine, fine, your Rong-ge will painstakingly go find a tyrannosaurus rex if you—”

“Thank you,” Noah repeats, his gaze now downcast on a random speck of dust on the floor, “for taking care of me.”

Silence runs awkwardly between them as Noah tries his best to avert. The wooden cottage planks are awfully interesting to stare at now. He fully knows he’s being fickle, and he knows Colonel Yang will call him out on it – “incorrigibly rude one moment and a split personality the next,” the man would probably say, “as fickle as usual.”

He can already imagine the smirk on the man’s face – and how his mind is automatically programmed to see Yang Rong so clearly, he can only blame it on the latter’s extremely, unfortunately attention-grabbing character. When Yang Rong raises a hand to cup the sides of his ears, Noah has long prepared for a chastising.

Instead, however, Yang Rong very tenderly brushes back a lock of his hair – Noah thinks the man has a penchant for ruffling his hair for no justifiable reason – and then slowly kneads the sensitive spot beneath his lobe. The colonel’s hand is warm yet firm, carrying a sense of security and Noah allows the contact easily. A low chuckle comes from the other man, a whisper of something inaudible since Noah is too absorbed in light-scented sandalwood.

“If you already know how much of a hassle it is, then you should build up your lanky body, hmm?” Yang Rong says with a small smile, not a smirk, though it turns more pensive the more they linger in quietude. The colonel lets out a low hum, the viridescence of his eyes an ever-changing glow. “Noah… when I look at you, I am quite…”

He trails off. Noah, even more perplexed, prompts him, “What are you thinking?”

“I am thinking,” Yang Rong replies slowly, “about how I feel when I look at you.”

“Then let me know when you’ve decided against sending me to the Nexus as an experimental subject,” Noah says to him. “Or if you’ve decided against throwing me in a breeding facility. It is quite rare, after all, to find an omega hybrid.”

“An underestimate,” Yang Rong tells him. “You are one of a kind.”

“That’s incorrect,” Noah says. “There are… a few. A few individuals who are radioactively infected like you, Colonel Yang. It is unfortunate that their lifespans are not likely to hold some extra years—scientifically hypothesized. Furthermore, the longer you are exposed to solar rays, the more life-threatening your condition becomes.”

“Interesting,” the colonel replies. “So there are outliers among the infected. What do you say is an estimated lifespan for those like you?”

“There are always outliers and there is never a proper estimate. Some live three years post-syndrome, some three days. There may be some compatibility needed between humans and certain types of animals to withstand a proper morph. It is all speculation, of course, but it is more usual to see functioning mammal hybrids than arthropods or other ectotherms.”

He’s going on a tangent, but Colonel Yang seems too indulged by the topic. Noah ignores the intensive stare at his face – he can feel the man scrutinizing his expressions, his small movements – and concludes, “The degree of radiation also varies as does your genetic makeup – simply put, there isn’t a direct correlation to be made as of yet.”

“Hmm,” Yang Rong hums out, his hand now snaking to the back of Noah’s head, obviously teasing when he rubs around the area. The movements are subtle when he traces upward, pressing his index and middle fingers lightly on Noah’s scalp. Yang Rong is feeling up the shape of his skull very discreetly, searching for any odd lumps or unhuman characteristics. “There is some compatibility between humans and cats, I suppose. The Abyssinian domestic cat is said to share ninety percent of similar genes. Hmm… little kitten, you look more to be a Persian.”

Noah is beginning to feel annoyed when the man traces upward, his intentions now too clear. It is not often that Noah allows him to touch like this, and it is even more agitating when Yang Rong is obviously feeling for hidden ears.

He lets out a low, disgruntled noise and grabs the colonel’s arm, preventing him from going further.

Yang Rong’s lips curl up teasingly. “Are you sensitive here? I’m curious to see how you would morph ears and… what is your lifespan, little hybrid kitten?”

“Not a cat,” he mutters spitefully – to deaf ears, of course, because while Yang Rong is great at some things, listening comprehension is not one of them. Noah’s voice lowers and he says, tentatively, “…My case is not very common.”

Yang Rong angles himself closer. Strangely, the obstruction of personal space isn’t as stifling as Noah had expected. The alpha’s presence is softened without the usual conceitedness and the pheromones, too, are subdued to match the noiseless night. Yang Rong’s voice travels honeylike in timbre, “I do like uncommon.”

It is nighttime that evokes peculiar emotions, making him extra poignant, extra impulsive for him to pull the colonel’s forearm in, bringing their faces so close their noses almost touch. In the spur of the moment, a light tease if he will, Noah tilts forward and hums close to Yang Rong’s ears, “Colonel Yang, let me tell you a secret.”

His lips, slightly curved into a smirk, brushes against Yang Rong’s earlobe. Noah murmurs, intentionally slowly, “I have been infected for twenty-one years. I can probably outlive you at this rate?”

The reaction is unexpected. Noah would have liked to see the colonel’s half-shocked, half-frightened expression. He would have liked to see Yang Rong, normally so self-assured, to show just a sliver of surprise. All such imaginations vanished into thin air when the latter wraps an arm around his body, pulls him in even closer – and laughs.

A low laugh that sends tingling vibrations down his chest.

“A daring claim, Noah,” Colonel Yang murmurs by his ears in retaliation, “but I have been infected for twenty-seven years. I have six years over you already.”