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in tandem

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Summer gave way to autumn with little notice, bringing with it a subtle chill that woke An Zhe in the middle of the night.

Thankfully, An Zhe had learned how to deal with the cold a long time ago. He wrapped their thin quilt tightly around him, and turned part of his body into soft and flexible mycelium that could burrow under Lu Feng’s warm body. An Zhe saw Lu Feng’s nose wrinkle when his hair passed, and it made him happy to bully the colonel. He rubbed his head past Lu Feng’s face a few more times, as if he was struggling to settle back to sleep, while he smiled in his heart.

A heavy arm draped over his back, trapping him in Lu Feng’s embrace. “Don’t move so much,” Lu Feng ordered. His voice was thick and attractive, and it made An Zhe want to bite him. He set his teeth into Lu Feng’s bare shoulder, gnawing at it.

“Don’t eat,” Lu Feng said, voice low and fond. He seemed comfortable, and he was only complaining with his mouth.

An Zhe gnawed until the skin turned red, and then used his eyes to admire the color. It was bright and shiny, and it looked good against the smooth skin. The colonel often bit An Zhe’s skin like this, leaving small red marks all over. “Doctor Ji said you would like it if I bit you.”

“I would like it if you kissed me,” Lu Feng corrected, dragging An Zhe closer to him. He was careful not to shift and break the fragile mycelium under him.

An Zhe stared at him suspiciously, but gave the shoulder a kiss.

“Not there.”

An Zhe decided that he hadn’t heard him. This was a trick that the colonel often used. He closed his eyes and turned his face into Lu Feng’s chest; he wouldn’t give any more kisses, he decided. But once he made the decision, feeling satisfied, An Zhe couldn’t help but feel that the colonel was happy.

Kisses made him happy. No kisses also made him happy.

Lu Feng was difficult to understand sometimes.



Sunlight was entering the car through the transparent top when An Zhe felt the armored vehicle stop. Lifting his head from where it had been resting against the window, he stared out to see that Lu Feng had driven them into a city of ruins. During their trips to the Abyss, this was a common enough situation, so he turned his eyes to Lu Feng, questioning.

Lu Feng was watching him, but did not speak until An Zhe prodded him with a thin mycelium. “I am keeping a promise.”

An Zhe blinked. “With who?”

“With you,” Lu Feng said, a little laughter in his voice. He smiled a bit happily, like he had just eaten something delicious.

An Zhe checked. “With me?”

Lu Feng nodded.

He stared at the colonel with suspicious eyes, and then dubiously out to the ruins that he did not recognize. “I forgot?” Seeing Lu Feng so pleased made his stomach feel uncomfortable, like he had been given a fruit that looked delicious but was bitter inside.

Lu Feng reached out to ruffle An Zhe’s hair. “It was a small promise.”

But I forgot, An Zhe tried to convey with his eyes. He retracted his mycelium, grabbing Lu Feng’s hand with his own.

“Will you climb over to my seat?” Lu Feng teased.

An Zhe withdrew his hand.

In the sunlight, the inorganic parts of the town shined against the dust. Their hands were held together, forming a drooping connection that reminded An Zhe of thick vines hanging between trees. There was not much wind, but the air was very dry and it was slightly uncomfortable. Glancing up and down the streets they passed, there were no monsters and no humans in this place.

Lu Feng pulled them to a stop beside a glass-windowed shop. The windows were dusty but the sign could be read: BIKESHOP.

Inside, there were many bicycles stacked on the walls and floor. The dust was heavy in the shop, but the colors of the bicycles were very nice. An Zhe glanced at Lu Feng and secretly wrapped some mycelium around one that was similar in color to the colonel’s eyes.

Lu Feng’s eyes were very good and caught the motion. Grasping An Zhe’s wrist, he tugged him away from the bike. “You want to eat so many things,” Lu Feng said, a bit aggrieved.

“It looks good,” An Zhe answered honestly.

“Would you rather eat, or ride?” Lu Feng coaxed.

The answer was easy: “Ride!”

“Then pick one out that looks nice.”

An Zhe drifted through the shop. The shelves were full of interesting pieces that could build up a bike, like the limbs and heads in Boss Shaw’s workshop. His eyes wandered, looking the bikes over: big and small, long and short, with wheels that were skinny and fat. Finally, his eye stopped on one that stood apart from the others.

It was a very attractive bicycle, and he could imagine Lu Feng sitting atop it like a freshly watered mushroom. It was also long, and had an extra set of handlebars, pedals, and seat: An Zhe would be able to sit comfortably on his own seat. Before An Zhe decided to point it out to Lu Feng, he walked up to it and pressed on the seats, leaned down to cycle the pedals once. These actions were things that An Ze’s memories showed were important for selecting a bicycle.

When he stood, satisfied that this was the correct bike, he called Lu Feng over.

“...” An Zhe felt that Lu Feng’s face was slightly reluctant.

“It is black and silver-colored like your coat,” An Zhe said, trying to convince him, “and the pedals spin well. And there are two seats.”

“You indeed don’t think like others,” Lu Feng complimented. It made An Zhe feel slightly itchy, as if some small bugs were crawling on his cap.

“What bike is better,” An Zhe said.

Lu Feng pointed to another nearby bike. It was also black and silver, and had a firm seat and pedals that span. In many ways, it matched the bicycle that An Zhe had originally picked. There was one key difference in the bicycles, however: it had only one seat.

He looked at Lu Feng, confused. “Where do I sit?”

“You can stay on my back while I ride it.” Lu Feng said.

An Zhe imagined it.

When mushrooms spread their spores, sometimes they would land on another mushroom. If this happened, the spore would become like a parasite, growing on top of the mushroom and stealing its nutrients to survive. In a way, the mushroom would be very good to the spore, until it also became a little mushroom. It seemed very similar to his relationship with Lu Feng.

If An Zhe stayed on Lu Feng’s back while Lu Feng rode the bike, perhaps it would look attractive, like two mushrooms growing on top of wood.

Staring back at the tandem bike, An Zhe considered. What did it mean to ride a bike? He turned to look at Lu Feng, and said, “I want to pedal.”

Lu Feng smiled, “Then I should ride on your back?”

“Yes,” An Zhe said.

“But do you know how to ride a bike?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then will you pedal?”

An Zhe paused. “I want to pedal.” He thought for a moment, and then pointed at the tandem bike. “I was correct the first time. Then let’s ride this one.”

Lu Feng laughed.