Better to Think Before Making Promises
It's so hot that the air is like liquid, which seems counterintuitive, but anyone who's been outside on a midday brighter than hell itself would know that summer is often just that: counterintuitive. Such days are best to be spent inside with a woven fan and a basket of loquats. Maybe hustling the vendor for some bingfen half off or playing around in a river with some friends.
Well, at least he got halfway there.
Sweat rolls down his face like blood would. If you just looked at the riverbank, you'd think that a dead body was lying there, freshly done away with. The sword in his hands doesn't help the image either, even though the blade is decidedly uncolored.
But, this young man isn't dead, even though, in blots of random thought, he wishes that he was at the moment. He's just languishing. Sleeping. Whatever.
Something about him is dead though. Maybe it's the fact that he's here again, staring at the sky and counting the seconds it takes for the sun to move a milometer. Maybe it's the fact that every time he closes his eyes, he can remember that this lifeless position isn't unfamiliar to him. Maybe it's the fact that his limbs remain limp, stay motionless even when he wills them to move or twitch or do anything to be honest.
(Something about him aches. For sweet release. For eternal sleep. For him to get to his goddamn feet like a cultivator is supposed to do. Any one of those things would be absolutely brilliant.)
The lukewarm water laps at his shoes like some kind of dog, the only reason he hadn't managed to fall asleep through the hours he'd been lying here. It's a shame that they're completely soaked though, because they were expensive and well, hard to sew. They'll wet his feet and make them stinky, he thinks blearily. He can only afford one flower fragrance a month and that much is always spent for the more delicate jobs at the brothels or the bathhouses.
He tries to sit up again, and suddenly, his body pulses with something that chokes the breath out of him. It doesn't hurt, no. He would never admit that. At least his tongue isn't lolling out of his mouth or something. That would be embarrassing.
"Well, are you going to get up any time soon?" A voice greets him from above. He thinks for a moment that the sun is speaking to him, but then he remembers that he is still alive.
"Teacher?" He rasps. His tongue almost flaps. He reels it back in.
The older man sighs. He bends over and pinches one of the boy's biceps deeply, making him yelp in a shamefully high pitch. The limb twitches though, the first movement in a while.
"You're going to burn your skin down to the bone if you keep lying here," Teacher scolds.
"I was training," the young man defends himself. His voice sounds tinnier than a cicada's cry, which definitely isn't helping his case at all.
"Do pigs have to train before they're roasted?" Teacher scoffs before his expression softens, much to the boy's displeasure, "If you had called for me hours ago, I would've carried you back."
"That's why I didn't call," he said stubbornly. Mobility slowly returning to him, he slowly flexes his fingers, wincing when the raw pink flesh scrapes against itself. Teacher exhales deeply like he's been living seven lifetimes, which is actually possible to be honest. Still.
"You should get out more. I feel like you're too unsettled by this teacher-student hierarchy," he says tiredly. "You know, get yourself a partner. A boyfriend? A girlfriend?"
It takes a second.
"Girl—girlfriend?" the boy stutters, suddenly discovering it was possible for his body temperature to rise even when he feels like he's being burned alive by the forces of nature. Teacher pinches the bridge of his nose and backtracks a little.
"Maybe not a girlfriend. A friend your age at least? Don't you have any desire to socialize?" he tries. He wonders if his student is still traumatized by that one time he had a conversation with a man on the street and he hadn't realized the other was flirting with him until he had asked if he preferred pitching or catching. (Except with more... Explicit vocabulary.)
The young man doesn't respond to his question, instead rolling himself gently out of the rushing water's grasp and attempting to sit up. Teacher watches without helping, having learned early on that the younger didn't appreciate any sort of support for these sort of things.
"I should start training again," the boy mumbles. The surface of the sun looks like its contorted into a face, which is certainly unfortunate considering that most faces from distant memory were faces he'd rather forget. Teacher narrows his eyes, does that thing where he inspects him up and down while making his pupils look like they're still staring straight at him.
"Sure. Let's spar then," the older man says abruptly.
The young man turns towards Teacher like he wasn't just lying on the ground like a corpse just moments before, eyes shining impossibly bright. It's positively blinding.
No wonder the girls liken him to a puppy, Teacher thinks. If he were less stupid, he might even be considered a teenage heartthrob.
"Yeah. I'll knock you out on the first blow and walk home without you," Teacher says. "So in short, no. Go back to your bed and rest well unless you want to greet heaven and wake up with a headache so bad you'd wish you'd never been born."
"Maybe that's a life experience I need to have," the boy argues. He gets to his feet, wobbling slightly, and picks up his discarded sword, though not without great difficulty.
Teacher examines him again, though less subtly this time. He squints and thinks.
"Okay then. But without a sword," he concedes.
"What?!" The boy's sword is dropped without second thought, and this time, it is Teacher's turn to cringe. That could've stabbed a foot.
"You heard me, get into stance."
The two men circle each other on the side of that river, the sun beating them like a drum. It sounds like that too, like ears ringing and vibrating with newly formed adrenaline. The young man has waited his entire life for this moment.
He leaps forward first. Teacher intercepts. He kicks. Teacher intercepts. He hunches and throws a fist. Teacher intercepts. He grits his teeth in frustration and for one second, blinks.
In that time, Teacher grabs his arm and pulls until he loses his balance. He sucks in a breath. Teacher leans in. There is a dull noise on the back of his head, then the sound of something hollow being struck.
He slumps. Teacher extracts his hand from the position it once held taut. The older man sighs as he watches the boy's body bob up and down on river, unconscious.
That one really is stupid, he thinks, kneeling down to pick the boy out of the water. Despite what he said before, he'll end up hauling him back home anyways.