Shang's strategy to stop liking Fa Ping was quite easy, in the end. It mostly consisted on avoiding the boy as much as possible which, thankfully, was quite easy once they were called to fight, and most of the contact they had had during training was reduced to a mere give and receive orders.
He had almost convinced himself that it had been nothing but an infatuation and too much work (and he had made another mental note to ask for time off once China was safe again) when the captain would get sight of the boy, now laughing with the soldiers, or sometimes looking at him and giving him this… gesture that wasn't a smile, that sort of made him look as if he was drugged, and Shang would be back to where he started, wanting to know what evil he had done to deserve this kind of punishment.
So it came the second part of his strategy; whenever he had the urge to look for Fa Ping, he would meditate, or practice with his sword; the important part was not to let his brain get lazy enough to focus over a soldier like that, no when there was a war to win.
He also remembered that his mother, in all her wise, had probably been right when she had said that he needed to marry.
Shang was finishing practice with his sword and heading back to the place they had camped for the night when he heard whispers nearby. Following them, he found Ping kneeling close a tree, his back to him.
"I saw you!" An unknown voice said and Shang frowned, getting his hand over the hilt of his sword.
"You're overreacting! It wasn't that bad!" Ping said, but his voice somehow sounded softer. Shang shook his head when he thought it fitted with him better like this.
"With whom are you talking to?" Shang finally asked, getting closer, a hand over the hilt of his sword. The boy scrambled to his feet, eyes wide open in panic as he looked towards the front.
"Eh… with me!" Shang raised an eyebrow and the boy gulped, before adding. "I heard from a philosopher that you'll only conquer your enemies if you conquer yourself so… eh… I was doing that! … sort of. I, er… " he laughed, voice deep again. "I sort of let Chien-Po to convince me about eating a second bowl of rice, so I was trying to give myself a stern talk."
"Is that so?" Shang asked, not convinced in the least; but once he looked over the tree Ping had been kneeling, there was only a scared looking cricket. The boy made some sort of nervous sound, and when Shang turned, the boy did the same, as if he had been expecting something to be found.
"You know what's the punishment for lying to your superior, right?"
Ping swallowed. "Yes, sir!"
Try as he might, Shang was never able to decipher how the next set of events happened. First Ping was trying to hurry by his side, then Shang had been sure he saw something going directly for the soldier's neck and he had pushed him out of whatever had been there… and next thing he knew, both of them were over the ground, he on top of Ping, looking down to a very surprised – and blushing – soldier.
It was Shang's turn to swallow while, up this close, he was unable to distract himself with anything, noticing the unnatural way his eyelashes seemed longer, or how full his Ping's lips were. He knew that, sometimes, in some families, if the son was too weak, they'd train him as a courtesan. Shang thought that it didn't sound as something the honorable Fa Su would've done, but somehow, while thinking of the boy that Ping had been before, it made some sort of sense.
And he wondered if it'd be that bad. To have a male lover. It wasn't unheard off, after all, and if the both of them kept a low profile… the mere idea of having to hide something, as if he was a criminal, made him pull away from Ping, leave him there on the ground, flushed and with lips parted open.
Control yourself! Focus!
"You should go back to the camp." Shang told the boy, giving his back to him and his wide eyes. "It's dangerous to be by yourself."
Shang didn't wait for Ping to stand up and salute to stroll back to his tent, ready to spend the night meditating if he needed to, since it really wasn't the time to get sick if he took a night-long bath.