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57 Chapter Fifty Seven - No Longer Walking Alone

    Six months; it had been six months since Nathan's small world had changed.  He did not count the months before where everyone had disappeared, dying and transforming into walking corpses that are people.  His world had been a solitary one with passerby's and occasional visitors.  Even his parents were more like guests than permanent fixtures, not because they were not around much, just that they had helped Nathan form his world and allowed him to prosper in his own way.  And that way, was solitary.  There had been other guides upon his path such as the Nanny, Gardener and his Teacher, but they all left him alone in the end.

    And then six months ago, a man had appeared, a softly spoken man who did not treat him as if he was a fragile, exotic flower in a greenhouse and out of its natural habitat or as a small, prickly weed in an otherwise blooming garden.  There was no anger nor coldness when Nathan did not meet his gaze nor impatience when Nathan was panicked by sudden sounds blasting through his sensitive ears.  Nathan had felt secure when close to him during their first time meeting and had slowly come to rely on him more and more.  And wanted to be closer to him more and more.

    And then Chang Min had appeared.

    Chang Min was not the first to appear beside Ren Zexian.  Firstly, there were those other men, Dexter, Tyler, Patrick and the others.  They were loud men and had big presences.  However, they were not unkind to him and they respected his garden and personal space, so he had slowly accepted their being in his parents' home.  There had always been people in the house, so it wasn't too much to replace the former occupants in his mind with these men.

    The next group of people were not so easy to accept, be it their numbers or their mannerisms.  And so, with perhaps the exception of Autumn and Nan Li Liang, who was naturally a quiet and serious youth, Nathan had skirted around them most of the time and generally, they also kept their distance from him unless Ren Zexian was beside him.  He felt he could deal with anyone so long as Ren Zexian was with him.

    But Chang Min was not like those others, Chang Min was much more like a Ren Zexian, quietly spoken, would walk with his hands behind his back and he could discuss with Ren Zexian things that only they could comprehend.  Ren Zexian also treated Chang Min different to the others.  Perhaps because of this, Nathan had grown to dislike Chang Min.  But as Chang Min had a bright sunny smile and a genuine manner, never spoke to him using those unpleasant tones Nathan had become used to when growing up, Nathan could not hate Chang Min.  Still, he did not want to leave Chang Min and Ren Zexian alone together.  It made his stomach feel really sour.

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    When Ren Zexian has asked him to wait in their room (their room, the one he now shared with Ren Zexian, not Chang Min!) so he could speak with Chang Min alone, Nathan was reluctant.  His eyes had felt pricked with thorns and he felt the water gathering in them.  Why? He had wanted to ask, but could not.

    Why do you want to be alone with that man, why do you want me to go away and why do I feel as sad as when I could not save mother's favourite lilac tree?

    His world had been a solitary one so he had never truly experienced the joy of having someone else walk beside him in that world, the pain and the need to keep them close.  But although he hadn't and did not completely understand what was happening to his heart, he did understand that Ren Zexian was not a guide, guest or passerby in his world.  He just didn't have the word to explain who he was to him.

    *****

    Ren Zexian was also experiencing conflicting emotions, but not due to the fact that he did not know who Nathan was to him.  To sum up such in words was less simple, but this was only because using words seemed too simple, to crass to use to do so.  If he were pushed to express such using words, however, he would say that: although he knew that there could be a person he could walk besides upon this unending quest for immortality, he had been content enough to journey alone with guests and passerby's as he did so, until he met Nathan.

    In this, he and Nathan were the same, though neither of them truly knew it.  Ren Zexian had come to find that Nathan was the part of his heart, his soul, his entire being that he had not known was missing.  And now that he was aware, he did not believe he could continue on this journey without him there beside him.  Thus, he was not conflicted on what Nathan meant to him.

    He was conflicted on how to express this to Nathan and how to convince Nathan to accept him.

    In some ways, Nathan was as innocent as a child.  He could not lie, he could not express what he did not mean and he was straightforward in his manner.  He liked what he liked, he hated what he hated.  However, that did not mean he had the same level of trust or shallow experiences of a child.  He did not trust and respect others blindly and without reason.  He knew that he was not like other people and refused to accept the disdain nor pity of anyone.

    Therefore, Ren Zexian felt that he had to step lightly, to not reveal his feelings in a way that looked down on Nathan's social understandings, yet to make them clear enough that Nathan could not mistake his meanings for anything else.  His heart beat for him.

    As he approached the top step and realised that Nathan was hovering just a little away from the stairs, that heart began to race and a cold sweat broke upon the brow that ever seemed cool and collected.  How much had Nathan heard him state?

    Nathan, deep in his own thoughts, glanced up, startled, before bouncing away like a frightened deer towards their shared room.  After a moment's hesitation, Ren Zexian was hot upon his tail.  And who was Ren Zexian?  His body might not have been quite what it was in his heyday, however, he was not lacking.  He certainly could outrace a youth who'd only taken baby steps upon the path of cultivation.

    The bedroom door swung shut beside them and Nathan stood beside the bed, his eyes darting about the room and refusing to meet Ren Zexian's.  Ren Zexian also could barely control himself, his arms reaching forward, wanting to touch, wanting to hold, but fearing to do so.  Fearing that Nathan would not abide the strong need within him, that he would be rejected.  Nathan was a sensitive person inside, Ren Zexian worried he would overwhelm him.

    Finally, it was Nathan who broke the standoff between them.

    "Why?" He blurted out, then gripped at his ears as if he found his own voice too loud or perhaps he simply did not want to hear the answer.  Seeing his knuckles turn white, Ren Zexian feared that Nathan would hurt himself and finally placed his hands over the youth's, carefully peeling them away.

    "Nathan," he called to him, gently, though his tone was not without a little of the stirring emotions dwelling within him.  "Nathan, I have something I wish to speak with you about.  But first, do you have something to ask me?"  His question was intended for two reasons, only one was as he wished to understand Nathan's earlier query.  Otherwise, he cursed himself as a true coward, prolonging this matter between them.

    "Why can't it be me?" Nathan shouted, wincing at the volume, but finally feeling that some clarity was forming with his sentence.  That was right!  When he witnessed Chang Min standing together with Ren Zexian and when Ren Zexian praised Chang Min, he did not like it, because he wanted to be the one standing with Ren Zexian and he wanted to be the one praised by Ren Zexian.  Ren Zexian was in his world not as a guest, nor guide nor passerby but as...

    "Why can't what not be you, Nathan?" Ren Zexian raises a hand to tentatively wipe away the salty tears running down the face filled with frustration.  It was the first time he'd ever seen this expression on his dear boy's face; his nose wrinkled at the bridge, his brow furrowed so deeply it looked quite painful.  He bit at his lower lip, drawing Ren Zexian's eyes and inflicting a need to kiss away the wound.

    But the question was proving too much for Nathan, who had no answer and the youth simply shook his head, so it was up to Ren Zexian to attempt to translate his words, his actions.

    "There are many things you are, Nathan," Ren Zexian said, more calmly than he felt.  "You are honest, you are bright, you are an excellent gardener."  Nathan shook his head once more, so Ren Zexian continued to speak, his hands wandered to brush the lengthening chestnut strands from Nathan's face with a smile.  He would soon be able to tie his hair back and not long after, arrange it into a noble crown.  "You are talented and strong and generous.  You've give us all a way to survive.  You are amazing, Nathan."

    "But I am not Chang Min," Nathan finally replied.

    "Why would you need to be Chang Min?" Ren Zexian asked, confused.  "You are perfect the way you are.  You are more than perfect."  Nathan was shaking his head once more, he was not perfect.  He was not like other people, he knew that, so how could he be perfect?  "Nathan, what can I do in order that you will believe me, believe me that I believe you are perfect?"

    "Stay with me?"  Nathan told him.  "I don't want to watch you go away."

    "Where would I be planning to go?" Ren Zexian found himself chuckling and shook his own head.  "Nathan, even if I had to leave here, to leave this house, to leave this place, I would want to take you with me.  Nathan, I have strong feelings for you.  Not those of a friend or a brother, nor of a parent or a Teacher, but of a person who wishes be the closest person to you in this life, in this world.  Closer than you are to even your beloved plants."

    "But you are closer to me than the plants," Nathan pointed out, lifting the hand which was still being held.

    "Do you like me more than the plants?"  Ren Zexian asked him in half-tease.

    Nathan looked thoughtful for a moment and then a look of complete clarity shone in his stunning eyes.  "Yes," he replied, earnestly.  "I like you more than I like the plants!"  His smile was worth a thousand sunrises, but it faltered as he shyly asked; "Do you like me more than the plants?"

    "Yes, Nathan, I do," Ren Zexian replied.

    "More than Chang Min?"

    And it was then that Ren Zexian felt as he had when he had first pierced the bottleneck preventing him from proceeding further in his cultivation.  Nathan had been jealous of Chang Min?  The warmth welling within him began to simmer with happiness.  "Yes, Nathan, most definitely more than Chang Min.  Nathan, the feeling I have for you is love.  I love you.  I want to be with you forever and want you to be with me forever.  To wake up with you, to breakfast with you, to hold your hand as we walk within beneath the sun, to hold you close when we shelter from the cold.  I want to raise your plants with you, want to cultivate with you and want you to be the last thing I see before I close my eyes to sleep."

    Nathan's smile regained its vitality.  Ren Zexian was not a guest nor a guide, he was the person within his world that he had been waiting, wanting to find.
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