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    Chapter 148: Stop 24: Hot Springs

    Occasionally, Yan Qiling allowed his repressed emotions to surface.

    That was only because he had enough confidence in himself to believe that he could still maintain control over them.

    This near-arrogant belief in his ability to "retract" his emotions gave him permission to experience the fluctuations within a safe boundary, as if it were a harmless pastime.

    But emotionally, endurance, suppression, and stubbornness were never virtues.

    They were the breeding grounds for countless misunderstandings, rifts, and divisions between hearts.

    Yan Qiling was acutely aware that emotions were a double-edged sword for most people, but for him, the blade always seemed to point inward, cutting particularly deep.

    Love or hate, they were both sturdy armor when one donned their defenses, yet concealed countless sharp barbs beneath, lacerating the wearer and causing blood to flow endlessly.

    His virtue of achieving results, coupled with his thoughtful sensitivity, proved advantageous when it came to taking action.

    Caring for someone, to him, was often not a blessing from heaven but a nightmare-like curse, especially when it came to love.

    At first, it always appeared utterly enchanting, tempting one to savor and possess it.

    It was enveloped in intense affection, gliding onto the palate like honey, capable of transforming one into an enlightened being, making everything in the world seem amiable and sublime. Even the most war-torn lands could be instantly soothed.

    In such moments, even the most miserly person couldn't resist the urge to share, longing for everyone around them to experience this unique and unparalleled delight.

    Yet, soon, the syrup melted away, revealing thesharp rot beneath.

    All those inappropriate edges will be laid bare.

    Those qualities he possesses would undoubtedly hasten the dissolving of the sugary coating, heighten the acrimony of the decay, and make it all the more bitter. Simultaneously, it would secrete toxic venom, corroding both within and without, stripping flesh from bone.

    Death comes silently.

    He decided to avoid it altogether.

    So.

    He desired more than ever to heed his inner voice rather than external opinions, to act on his own objectives without concern for others' intentions.

    Maintaining a facade of amiability while keeping everyone at arm's length, just as he had with Ding Tai, Pan Hu, Chi Zihe, and even She Lingshuang.

    When necessary, he could be the refined "Mr. Yan," the loyal "Young Brother Yan" of the underworld, or the dependable "Uncle Yan."

    When not needed, he could be the ruthless "Master Wujian," the one who had taken Ming Yiyang's sight.

    Originally, he wouldn't have felt any guilt over it; these people held no significance in his life.

    But now, he realized that he had overestimated himself, harboring an obstinate refusal to face reality until the bitter end.

    If he truly was as he believed himself to be.

    Those three words hidden in his heart would have been carelessly spoken out loud, as they usually would, crashing onto Ming Yiyang's startled face without regard for the young man's thoughts or emotional upheaval.

    The other person's reaction wouldn't sway his judgment in the slightest.

    Now, he hesitated.

    He slowly savored this hesitation, realizing that it was born from fear.

    Fear of Ming Yiyang expressing disgust towards him.

    No, no, no, that's too superficial. He needed to delve deeper.

    Yan Qiling cradled the distinct face before him with one hand.

    Studying the hybrid visage, which seemed to exude an angelic aura under the silver strands of hair.

    He meticulously pondered his own feelings, imagining the other's changing expressions, gradually coming to understand.

    What he feared was not Ming Yiyang, nor the other's disdain.

    He feared the part of himself that received this signal.

    This signal had the power to effortlessly shatter certain convictions deep within him.

    It would divert the plan, reverse time, and turn all that was once manageable into chaos, yet he would submit to it willingly, bowing his head in surrender.

    A fleeting surge of murderous intent arose.

    Only to be extinguished just as swiftly.

    The thumb pressing into his skin applied a subtle, yet distinct pressure, a change that Ming Yiyang clearly perceived.

    The young man, far from being troubled by the shadow of death, behaved like an innocent creature, tilting his head to press his cheek closer to the cold palm, much like a petulant puppy seeking affection.

    It was an endearing gesture born of dependence.

    Far from being off-putting, it filled Yan Qiling's heart with a effervescence of color, joyously expanding within him.

    The sensation of being so vividly needed.

    It made Yan Qiling realize once more that Ming Yiyang's demise would be far worse for him than receiving any signal of hatred from the other party.

    Ming Yiyang was oblivious to the fact that his life had almost been snuffed out in a breath by the other party.

    He displayed a relaxed and dependent posture, filled with immense satisfaction, quickly digesting Yan Qiling's enigmatic words.

    Nonetheless, this was no different from the warnings he had received before.

    It was merely emphasizing that he was an inhuman and filthy object, reiterating the warning once more.

    Since Ming Yiyang had already resolved to ignore these warnings, the repetition held no significance to him.

    Fixing his gaze into the man's eyes for a moment, he suddenly said,

    "I want a knee pillow."

    Upon hearing this, Yan Qiling seemed to snap back to reality, pulling his hand away. However, the young man grabbed hold of it, his interest piqued.

    "Not allowed a knee pillow? Then how about a bath together? It's a rare chance while on vacation."

    Yan Qiling found the suggestion absurdly outlandish.

    "Aren't you afraid that something uncontrollable might lurk within? It may seem shallow now, but if it suddenly turns into an abyssal whirlpool, no one would be able to save you."

    "That's why, Mr. Yan, let's do this together."

    The young man appeared particularly relaxed, even bordering on coquettish.

    Using both his hands and feet, he crawled in front of Yan Qiling. Although he was adopting a submissive posture, his large build made the scene resemble an amusing image of a polar bear approaching a traveler for food.

    Yan Qiling emphasized his words as he called out to him, "Yun Qu."

    "What Yun Qu? There's no Yun Qu here, only Xiao Ming, a student who's scared of soaking in hot springs."

    The young man held Yan Qiling's wrist, gently kissing the back of his hand with a smile. His dark, upturned almond-shaped eyes gazed at him, "Yan Qiling, please, I'm scared to soak alone."

    Yan Qiling: "..." You really have no shame.

    Of course, he didn't want to indulge the other's whimsical request, but faced with those longing eyes, he recalled how the man had always accompanied him around the house and film set, losing all sense of his own life in the process. He couldn't help but sigh.

    In the end, he reluctantly agreed:

    "Less than five minutes."

    "Five minutes, are we just going to wash our feet?"

    Ming Yiyang teased, but quickly added before Yan Qiling could react:

    "But a foot soak is better than nothing. People shouldn't stay in hot water for too long. You're so thoughtful."

    Seizing the opportunity, he swiftly kissed the man's cheek.

    As if forgetting all past resentments between them, he held the man tightly in his arms without any inhibitions.

    Then, before the other could erupt in anger, he released his grip swiftly, cunning like a fox in the forest, skillfully navigating the boundaries between them.

    Yan Qiling was powerless against his agility.

    He chose to pretend that he was oblivious, indulging the other party's occasional "boldness" with indifference.

    Little did he know that this semblance of acquiescence could be misconstrued.

    Perhaps deep down, he was aware of it.

    But just like the concept of "unspoken understanding," some matters didn't need to be explicitly clarified to proceed.

    The unique tacit understanding of the East was playing its role in this moment.

    It allowed people to tug and pull within the ambiguous gray areas without clear rules, functioning as a lubricant that increased the elasticity of the interaction, providing a thrilling experience akin to engaging in high-altitude activities.

    Defaulting to this state was like the boiling water that slowly cooked the frog, turning an uncertain creature into a certain, delectable mush.

    The difference lay in that some were unwilling to become mush but lost their chance in hesitation.

    Others, despite being capable of escape, willingly succumbed.

    As they drifted, they gradually lost their ability to choose, passively drifting towards their inevitable end.

    In his actions, Yan Qiling had nothing in common with a frog in tepid water; if there were any connection to be made, he would be the one boiling the frog.

    Yet, when it came to emotions, Yan Qiling was undoubtedly the frog.

    Regardless of age, people still couldn't make the "right" choices in matters of the heart. The root cause lay in...

    The fact that emotions didn't have a concept of "right" or "wrong."

    Yan Qiling embraced the latter, waiting patiently for the water to warm, allowing the steam to envelop him entirely.

    Should he sense the water cooling, he would leap out at any moment to save himself.

    But if the temperature continued to rise, he would remain immersed, indifferent to whether he would ultimately become a pot of soup.

    Ming Yiyang didn't aspire to be an "emotional chef," but in reality, he was controlling the dynamics between them.

    The young man didn't delve too deeply into such considerations.

    Even if one were to excavate Ming Yiyang's brain at this moment and examine its contents, they would likely find nothing but the straightforward and pragmatic thought: "How can I get Yan Qiling to enter the water wearing only his pants?"

    ...A simplicity that verged on innocence.

    Ming Yiyang was unaware of the other person's thoughts; he only knew that his concerns weren't groundless.

    Yan Qiling did indeed join him for a soak in the bath.

    But he was still clad in a white shirt.

    Ming Yiyang watched, wide-eyed, as the man showered in the bathroom while wearing the garment, then stepped into the hot spring, still dressed in the same white shirt.

    Sitting amidst the steamy haze, the man draped a white towel over himself. The soaked cotton shirt offered little concealment, revealing the resilient physique hidden beneath the fabric.

    Though fair-skinned, this body was by no means frail; its muscles were well-proportioned and not overly exaggerated, distributed with perfect symmetry – a physique that would look stunning on camera.

    For Ming Yiyang, the offending white shirt only heightened his already intense curiosity.

    Alongside his inflamed desire, it burned fiercely within him.

    Sitting side by side with a floating tray between them as a buffer, Ming Yiyang's urge to do something didn't dissipate but instead intensified alongside the murmuring of the hot spring water.

    The warmth of the hot spring dispelled the chill brought by the falling snowflakes. To avoid appearing too disheveled, he struck up a casual conversation aimlessly:

    "After you're done with the Helltrain matter, where do you plan to go?"

    "You're so sure I can resolve it."

    Yan Qiling swirled the chilled plum wine in his glass, gazing at him through his narrow eyes.

    Ming Yiyang propped his arm on the edge, his fingers threading through his silver hair. His usually cold visage flushed with a hint of pink, as he spoke earnestly and confidently,

    "Because once you've made up your mind to do something, regardless of what others think, say, or how they try to hinder you, you won't be deterred."

    "As long as you want to win, no one can stand in your way."

    Yan Qiling was slightly taken aback, his spinning glass coming to a halt.

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