Gan Ning's feet dangled over the lip of the rooftop, over whose residence he did not know or care. He had left the castle to find some distraction in the city, but none of the brothels or winehouses appealed to him. Eventually, he determined that none on earth would appeal to him.

So, with no desire to return to the castle, he took his rest atop the dense canopy of houses and businesses. Meanwhile, the drizzle had evolved into a thunderstorm. Thick rivulets of water flowed around him, running over his legs and cascading down to the city street below. He was smiling at the black clouds before him. With all the hustle and bustle, he did not get the chance to stop and watch the lightning dance on the horizon--something he enjoyed doing as a child. Nonetheless, he didn't like having to suffer in oppressive humidity, and after Fan Castle, he was absolutely sick and tired of feeling wet. Nonetheless he was content to suffer, shaking off the occasional shiver that travelled up his spine.

Ling Tong. He had the urge to throttle the life out of the sharp-tongued bastard after his words about Lu Meng. That feeling, however, had also nearly moved him to tears.


His attention darted down from the clouds to the street below to the source of the voice. He made out the face of Ling Tong peeking out from the hood of a long, dark brown cloak. Speak of the devil.

"Hey yourself," Gan Ning threw back.

"Been looking all over for you!" Ling Tong yelled, inviting himself up, conquering the height of the building with elegant acrobatics. "I had to ask everyone and their dog if they'd seen you," he said after his feet had landed softly on the shingles next to him. Ling Tong then seated himself and reached underneath his cloak to reveal a large gourd. "I think I owe you an apology."

Gan Ning did not reply. He still burned with indignation, and Ling Tong could feel it. Almost pleading, Ling Tong said, "Look, I know I owe you an apology. It was a bad joke, and I didn't realize how much he meant to you," he said. He wrenched the cork from the container and offered it to his comrade. Gan Ning made no move, which further defeated Ling Tong. "You don't have to forgive me right away, I guess," he breathed.

Gan Ning sighed, swiping the gourd for himself. He brought the container to his lips. After a few gulps, he wiped his lips with his wrist and said, "He was like a father to me."

Ling Tong quirked a brow. "Really," he said flatly.

"Which means I'm the one who should be apologizin'," Gan Ning replied.

"What? To who?" Ling Tong asked.

Gan Ning snapped his head to give him an incredulous look, simultaneously dropping the gourd to his lap. "To you, dumbass!" he said. He looked away and shook his head as if he couldn't believe he had to spell it out.

When Ling Tong didn't respond, Gan Ning looked back to him and said, "You see, I get it. I get you now. I get what you went through. And especially, I get why you'd want to kill every bastard who had even a little bit to do with your father's death."

Gan Ning clenched, so much that Ling Tong feared that the gourd would burst in his hand. "But see, there's no one to punish, no one t' blame," Gan Ning went on. "Shit happens. I've gotta eat my own words. I gotta let it go. I understand how stupid the chaos is, and why everyone wants to get rid of it, no matter who does it," Gan Ning concluded, finally relaxing. "Just like you."

A paused followed, where Gan Ning's words hung like the humidity in the air. Finally, Ling Tong smiled. "These are the times we live in." Ling Tong then said curtly. Ling Tong unfastened his cloak, and he blanketed it over the head and shoulders his blonde companion. "You don't have to act so surprised. You always understood what our lives mean. That was the last thing Lu Meng had to teach you," he finished, patting the cloak down and leaving his hand on the small of his friend's back.

Gan Ning smiled at him, but Ling Tong spied a solemn look that then washed over Gan Ning's countenance. His sights scanned the rest of his body, having the peculiar sense of being perfectly in-tune with him, similar to the way he felt around him on the battlefield. Gan Ning's eyes then darted to catch his, and suddenly, a strange feeling of expectation seized Ling Tong, as if waiting for something momentous to happen, but not knowing what. He was disappointed when Gan Ning eyes fell. "I think I'll definitely miss that old man," he said.

"Yeah," Ling Tong said, grabbing back the gourd to drink from.

He almost choked on the wine when Gan Ning suddenly said, "I'm lucky to still have someone like you around. I know I've been a real prick, but I know you'll forgive me."

That wasn't exactly what Ling Tong had been waiting for, but he was even more confused when Gan Ning's face suddenly lit up. "Especially since it looks like you're stuck with me from here on out!" he barked, laughing heartily as he threw the arm with the gourd around Ling Tong's stunned form and shook him roughly. Ling Tong recovered his senses, or at least enough to swallow the mouthful of drink. Ordinarily his irritation would flare up over Gan Ning's characteristic flippancy, but Ling Tong found himself having to admire Gan Ning's curious ability to transform heavy air into buoyant perfume with enchanting swiftness and grace.

"What's different? I have no less of a scurvy-addled punk hiding behind my coattails in battle," Ling Tong taunted, releasing himself from Gan Ning's hold with a shove that pushed over his companion.

"Hah!" Gan Ning thundered as he righted himself. "Nevermind me, you got enough skirt to hide an ambush party, sissy," he said, leaping to his feet to dodge the swipe he had anticipated from his friend for that remark. "Say, I have your coat now anyway! I'll let you have it back if you can beat me, hand-to-hand!"

With a grin and a nod, Ling Tong hopped to his feet as well and Gan Ning tossed away the gourd over his shoulder. They sparred upon the rooftops, rain nor cold able to dampen their spirits.

Sometime during their friendly bout, Gan Ning had leapt from the rooftop to the narrow streets below, causing Ling Tong to descend and pursue. It may have been the wine, or perhaps it was the vigorous exercise, or both, but no torture on Earth could strip the smile off his face while he gave chase.

"I thought you'd run!" Ling Tong said, laughing, soon closing the gap between them. Gan Ning whipped around a tight corner into an alleyway, somehow more narrow than the already narrow streets. Ling Tong nearly crashed into him when Gan Ning also suddenly came to a halt. Gan Ning turned around, and he had a look in his eyes that reflected Ling Tong's happiness, but also something else he had never seen. Suddenly, the pirate reached out to pin Ling Tong's shoulders to the wall and press the rest of his body with his. Ling Tong shuddered when he feel Gan Ning's breath wash over his face.

"Ning?" Ling Tong whispered. Gan Ning scanned him, hesitating, but before Ling Tong could question him again, he froze when Gan Ning moved to cover his lips with his own.

The kiss was gentle and chaste, yet Ling Tong was overcome, his mind flooded with confusion though his groin buzzed in a way he recognized but never could define. His own awakened desire wasn't the only thing spellbinding him, either, but also the tenderness he felt pour from Gan Ning's body into his own. He closed his eyes, elbows bent and his hands brushed over Gan Ning's biceps to his shoulders.

Then, Gan Ning pulled away. Ling Tong opened his eyes and inwardly panicked when he saw Gan Ning grimace, presuming him stung by his conscience. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't help this."

"Help what?" Ling Tong asked. Gan Ning brought his hand up to cup Ling Tong's cheek, but soon his gentle hand wrapped around the back of Ling Tong's head and he roughly pulled him in once more, this time for a blazing, ravenous assault of his mouth. Ling Tong's lips parted, almost as if on instinct, and Gan Ning's tongue invaded him without hesitation. Ling Tong felt his temples and cheeks burn--the taste of Gan Ning's subtle tang mixed with fresh rain excited him beyond measure. While his mind swam in desire, his heart bloating painfully with affection, and he drank passionately from Gan Ning's warm, possessive lips.

Gan Ning then pulled away again, but let his forehead rest on Ling Tong's while he caught his breath. "I don't know the words for it," Gan Ning then said. "But being with you like this drives me crazy. I've never met anyone like you." He brushed his lips against Ling Tong's once more and said, "I want you to stay with me tonight."

Ling Tong's mind went blank, and felt his body respond when he realized what Gan Ning was asking. He nodded meekly and whispered, "It's okay."

He gasped when Gan Ning roughly grabbed his wrist and lead them both back toward the castle.

A/N: I'll be frank-- the next chapter I intend to be EXPLICIT. Wewt. Finally, right?? :-D However, I also plan to make it 100% optional to read, meaning that it will have NO BEARING on the plot, so that those who would prefer not to read it can do so without missing any important plot points. Fair, right?